Thursday, April 06, 2017

Cruising the Web

Lee Smith explains why, contrary to what he believed a few months agin, he now believes that the Obama administration spied on American lawmakers to counter efforts to defeat the Iran deal.
I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

“At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. The administration got the drop on its opponents by using classified information, which it then used to draw up its own game plan to block and freeze those on the other side. And—with the help of certain journalists whose stories (and thus careers) depend on high-level access—terrorize them.
These are very serious allegations, but Smith points out how similar these accusations are to what is now being alleged how the Obama administration politicized surveillance against political opponents.
In order to spy on U.S. congressmen before the Iran Deal vote, the Obama administration exploited a loophole, which is described in the original Journal article. The U.S. intelligence community is supposed to keep tabs on foreign officials, even those representing allies. Hence, everyone in Washington knows that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer is under surveillance. But it’s different for his American interlocutors, especially U.S. lawmakers, whose identities are, according to NSA protocol, supposed to be, at the very least, redacted. But the standard for collecting and disseminating “intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers” is much less strict if it is swept up through “foreign-foreign” intercepts, for instance between a foreign ambassador and his capital. Washington, i.e. the seat of the American government, is where foreign ambassadors are supposed to meet with American officials. The Obama administration turned an ancient diplomatic convention inside out—foreign ambassadors were so dangerous that meeting them signaled betrayal of your own country.

During the long and contentious lead-up to the Iran Deal the Israeli ambassador was regularly briefing senior officials in Jerusalem, including the prime minister, about the situation, including his meetings with American lawmakers and Jewish community leaders. The Obama administration would be less interested in what the Israelis were doing than in the actions of those who actually had the ability to block the deal—namely, Senate and House members. The administration then fed this information to members of the press, who were happy to relay thinly veiled anti-Semitic conceits by accusing deal opponents of dual loyalty and being in the pay of foreign interests.

It didn’t take much imagination for members of Congress to imagine their names being inserted in the Iran deal echo chamber’s boilerplate—that they were beholden to “donors” and “foreign lobbies.” What would happen if the White House leaked your phone call with the Israeli ambassador to a friendly reporter, and you were then profiled as betraying the interests of your constituents and the security of your nation to a foreign power? What if the fact of your phone call appeared under the byline of a famous columnist friendly to the Obama administration, say, in a major national publication?
I'd forgotten that whole story about how the administration was listening in on the conversations of members of Congress when they were talking to Israeli leaders.

Andrew McCarthy, who has been writing about why Susan Rice's unmasking of Trump officials, writes now to explain that, while what she did might not have been criminal it was a "monumental abuse of power."
To discuss non-compliance with minimization instructions in the context of crime is a fool’s errand. Violating minimization instructions applicable to electronic surveillance is not a crime. Nothing unusual about that. Not every offense against laws, court orders, regulations, guidelines, etc., is a crime. Most law violations, in fact, are not crimes.

Moreover, the standard articulated in the minimization instructions is too vague to predicate criminal liability. It requires the masking (or concealment) of the identity of any American incidentally intercepted unless the intelligence value of an intercepted communication cannot be understood without knowing the American’s identity. Within reasonable parameters, that is a subjective judgment call. The criminal law is not for judgment calls. Its provisions must be precise, putting people on clear notice of exactly what is proscribed. Reasonable minds can differ on how much identifying information about an incidentally intercepted American is necessary before the intelligence value of a lawfully intercepted communication can be fully understood. That’s not the stuff of crime.

But the technical legality of any particular instance of unmasking is beside the point. The question is abuse of power.

Here, it is critical to bear in mind something that can easily be forgotten. The sole purpose of foreign intelligence collection is to understand the actions and intentions of foreign powers and their operatives. If the government’s purpose is to understand the actions and intentions of American citizens, there are two proper ways to go about that: (a) conduct a criminal investigation in which the American citizens can be targeted for court-authorized surveillance based on probable cause of a crime, or (b) conduct a FISA investigation in which the American citizens can be targeted for court-authorized surveillance based on probable cause that they are acting as agents of a foreign power.

If neither of those two alternatives is chosen, then the American citizens are not supposed to be the subject of the intelligence collection effort — they are supposed to be protected. The snooping to which they are subjected is an incidental byproduct (i.e., an unintentional albeit inevitable consequence) of snooping on foreign powers. The incidental snooping deprives them of privacy protections rooted in law — the requirement that the government obtain a judicial warrant before seizing and eavesdropping on their communications. The law allows this to happen, but only if post hoc safeguards are applied.

That is why, as Director James Comey testified before Congress, the FBI is “obsessive” about concealing the identities of Americans. That is why unmasking is a big deal.
It would be nice if Trump and his spokesmen understood this and stopped alleging crimes. Instead, let's find out how widespread this was and if there actually was a concerted effort to unmask the names of Trump officials and spread them throughout the intelligence community in order to facilitate possible leaking.
Were standards applied consistently: Was the same unmasking protocol applied to all Americans with equal rigor, or does it appear that some Americans — like maybe . . . Americans connected to Trump — were given less protection than others?

While the unmasking was going on, was an unprecedented presidential decision made to disseminate intelligence information very widely across the “community” of 17 intelligence agencies, including to officials with no obvious need to know?

And while that was going on, were administration officials (including some former ones, like Evelyn Farkas, who left the administration to join the Clinton campaign), pressuring Congress to seek as much disclosure from intelligence community as possible regarding Trump?

Whether we are dealing with a major abuse-of-power scandal or not depends on the answers to those questions. Contrary to Susan Rice’s latest version of events, it has little or nothing to do with whether laws were broken.

The American Thinker reminds us that Susan Rice, back in January, was bragging that one of the Obama administration's foreign policy victories was to force Assad to give up his chemical weapons. This is what she said on NPR to toot their horns.
We were able to find a solution that didn't necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. Our aim in contemplating the use of force following the use of chemical weapons in August of 2013 was not to intervene in the civil war, not to become involved in the combat between Assad and the opposition, but to deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of the diplomacy that we did with Russia and with the Security Council. We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.
Yeah, that's worked on so well. Was there anything that Susan Rice has ever said to the media that we can trust?

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It's not just Charles Murray who has been blocked for speaking. The Federalist points out that James Webb has been blackballed from speaking because 40 years ago he opposed women in combat.
Decorated war hero and lifelong public servant Jim Webb has been forced to decline the Distinguished Graduate Award from the Naval Academy Alumni Association due to what he described as a “small but vociferous group of women graduates” who oppose him.

Webb graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, served as a U.S. Marine in a rifle platoon, was a company commander during the Vietnam War, received the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism,” the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts, was secretary of the Navy (1987-1988), and served as a U.S. senator (2006-2013).
But that record isn't enough for some.
So, what, per this vociferous group of women graduates, is the unpardonable sin that trumps Webb’s phenomenal record of service? In 1979 Webb wrote a lengthy essay in the Washingtonian called “Women Can’t Fight.” Pointing out the physical differences between men and women that lead to demonstrably different warfighting capabilities is blasphemy against progressive doctrine.

It isn’t enough that he was (presumably, still is) willing to die for our country, or that he chose a life of public service. Nor is it enough that when he was secretary of the Navy he expanded the number of opportunities for women to serve in the Navy. Webb tried to defend himself by pointing to his record and the statements of many women who know him, but the protesters would not be reasoned with. That’s a characteristic of the hard Left. They reject reasoned discourse, differences of opinion, and any good faith show of compromise.
Read his 1979 essay and see if he doesn't convince you about the role of women in combat.
We would go months without bathing, except when we could stand naked among each other next to a village well or in a stream or in the muddy water of a bomb crater. It was nothing to begin walking at midnight, laden with packs and weapons and ammunition and supplies, seventy pounds or more of gear, and still be walking when the sun broke over mud-slick paddies that had sucked our boots all night. We carried our own gear and when we took casualties we carried the weapons of those who had been hit.

When we stopped moving we started digging, furiously throwing out the heavy soil until we had made chest-deep fighting holes. When we needed to make a call of nature we squatted off a trail or straddled a slit trench that had been dug between fighting holes, always by necessity in public view.
His language as he talks about the differences between men and women and how allowing women into the service academies would change their success. What was acceptable in 1979 is entirely unallowable today. But now we have women graduates from the Naval Academy who want to demonstrate the ability of women to fight in combat by signaling that women shouldn't have to hear from Jim Webb.
Those thin-skinned women only prove themselves unfit for any kind of opposition, let alone combat. Whoever is unable to grapple with another’s ideas without taking great personal offense, especially if those ideas come from an American hero who happens to believe women are worthy of esteem and worth defending and keeping out of the misery of war, it’s safe to assume isn’t going to fare well against barbaric jihadists.

James Taranto has fun ridiculing the way that the New York Times changes its editorial stance depending on which party is involved. They cheered on the Democrats removing the filibuster for judicial and executive nominations and expressed hope that the change would be spread to the Supreme Court nominations. But now that the Republicans are threatening to do exactly that if the Democrats filibuster Judge Gorsuch.
Here are the details: When the 2013 rule change cleared the way for President Obama’s nominees to achieve Senate confirmation, the Times informed readers that “the Senate changed its most infuriating rule.” The paper hailed what it called “a return to the democratic process of giving nominees an up-or-down vote, allowing them to be either confirmed or rejected by a simple majority.” The Times further opined that the “vote was long overdue.”

The Times also noted in 2013 that filibusters could still be mounted against Supreme Court nominees, but said that “now that the Senate has begun to tear down undemocratic procedures,” the new precedent “will increase the pressure to end those filibusters, too.”

That prediction proved to be correct. But oddly, this week the Times isn’t saying anything about democracy as it shows strange new respect for the recent customs of the Senate. The paper says that “surely having some slight chance of being able to deploy” the filibuster “to stop a renegade justice is better than having no chance at all.” And in the Times’s current telling of this debate over Senate procedure, Mr. McConnell and his Republican colleagues will not merely be endorsing a democratic principle or paring the Senate’s “most infuriating rule.” They have, according to the Times, “threatened a new weapon,” which is “known as the nuclear option.”
Taranto links to a Newbusters compilation of figures in the media cheering on the Reid maneuver back in 2013. I'm sure they'll all be demonstrating the same attitude when the Republicans do it.

It's not a good time for either Fox News or CNN when it comes to allegations of discrimination. Fox is still settling sex discrimination suits from the Roger Ailes era and now are facing allegations of sexual harassment against Bill O'Reilly. But they're not the only ones facing such a lawsuit. CNN has been sued by black staffers accusing the cable network of discrimination.
Unlike the lawsuit against Fox News, the one against CNN and sister companies is much broader, claiming among other things that African-Americans receive lower performance ratings in evaluations, that there are dramatic differences in pay between similarly situated employees of different races and that the promotion of African-American employees is blocked by a "glass ceiling." The complaint (see here) cites hiring and advancement statistics while alleging that African-American employees have endured slurs from superiors, including "It's hard to manage black people" and "Who would be worth more: black slaves from times past, or new slaves?"

....According to a plaintiffs' motion to amend that was filed March 23, "Since the filing of this action, counsels for the plaintiffs have been contacted by more than 175 people, both former and current employees of the Defendant, requesting to be members of the putative class action, all having similar complaints of intentional racial discrimination, discrimination impact and discriminatory practices employed by the Defendants."

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Salena Zito was the sole reporter who sensed early on that Trump was going to win because she went out to talk to people in areas of the Rust Belt that the DC/NYC media just aren't familiar with. She found out how there was so much desperation and dissatisfaction that led voters to just throw a spanner in the works and if voting for Trump was the way to do it, they were happy to do so. She was the first I saw to predict that Trump was going to win Pennsylvania after she reported on small towns in places in Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Now she's reporting on what she calls the next group of voters who are going to turn from the Democrats - people who live along the train route of the Acela Corridor but who aren't the wealthy people traveling between DC and NYC. Just like in former manufacturing towns, these people are facing tough times trying to make it these days.
A lot of things have happened in this “other” Acela corridor, stripping it of prosperity and patriotism, once generated by the notion that people here were the engine that made this country roar. But mostly, it has been unrelenting automation that has eliminated middle-class jobs and lives.

A study by economists Pascual Restrepo of Boston University and Daron Acemoglu of MIT tried to quantify how worried we should be about robots — and it succeeded.

In short, it determined, every additional robot used in automation reduced employment in a given commuting area by three to six workers, and lowered wages by 0.25 to 0.5 percent. There are 1.5 million robots out there working in what is left of industrial America, and that number is projected to double in less than 10 years.

For Nigel, automation ultimately will kill the best income he earns as a cabdriver, since driverless-vehicle technology is fast becoming more of a reality. Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, estimates that automated cars will impact the 5 million people nationwide who make their living by driving Uber, Lyft, taxis, buses, vans, trucks and delivery vehicles.

Katz points out that most of these drivers are people like Nigel — a man without a college degree — who’ve already been hit by the loss of 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000.

Peering out the window of the Acela Express, the sadness of this other world speeds by like a faded collage of past lives, hopelessly waiting to be brought back to life.

President Trump, like him or not, wasn’t wrong when he said there was “carnage” in the country right now. Ironically, a lot of that carnage is located on this corridor, connecting eight of the 10 wealthiest counties in our nation.

The hard truth is that no one has any idea what to do with the under-employed, high school-educated people who once were able to carve out good, middle-class lives with their own hands, as long as they were willing to work.

But somebody had better figure it out soon: With nearly 70 percent of Americans lacking college degrees, this corridor will eventually crack, just like the dislocated voters of the Rust Belt.
Trump might have won such voters in 2016, but if nothing changes by 2020 these voters will be floating free for whichever politician they think will change their situations. It's not clear that anyone knows what to do to help such citizens. But Zito is exactly right - employment downsizing due to automation isn't a problem that is going away. It won't be enough to demagogue about elites and China. Many of these people voted for Trump because they thought he could make a difference. Now it's up to him to fulfill his grandiose promises.

Here's a good, concise refutation of all the myths about Equal Pay Day.
But the 20% gender wage gap is actually a tiresome statistical myth that persists in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The reality is that men and women make very different career and work choices, and frequently play very different family roles, especially for families with children. Those choices reasonably account for most of gender differences in earnings and don’t point toward widespread gender pay discrimination in the workplace.

Labor economists have conducted numerous studies over many decades to explain differences in earnings among workers. Economists believe that two main factors influence the earnings received by a given worker.

The most important factor is the skills and productivity that an employee brings to the job, including both formal education and skills learned on the job through work experience. Data show that male employees tend to have more years of work experience than females, and also work more hours per week on average than women. Men also tend to gravitate toward college majors with greater market value than women. For instance, roughly 80% of engineering and computer science majors are male while two-thirds of liberal arts, drama, dance, education and fine arts majors are female. Those personal choices in college majors translate into wide variations in earnings after graduation, since market forces in the labor market determine salaries for different educational specialties.

But there’s a second component of earnings, which labor economists call “compensating wage differentials,” which also explains gender variation in salaries. Compensating wage differentials are differences in pay that are designed to attract employees to jobs that otherwise would be undesirable....

Economists have long found that, all else equal, more dangerous jobs pay higher average wages than safer jobs. And the 20 jobs with the highest occupational fatality rates tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are on average 93% male. Relatively safe occupations such as office and administrative support and education, training, and library occupations are roughly three-quarters female. If you think it’s reasonable for dangerous jobs to pay higher salaries, then you should also conclude that men on average should earn more than women.
How many times will this phony statistic be refuted before it stops being trumpeted by the media and self-interested politicians?

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