Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cruising the Web

It's funny how quickly the Democrats assembled their talking points about the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Immediately, they came out with the Nixon analogies. Of course, they've been calling for Comey's firing since the election. It isn't letting Comey go that is the problem, but the mysterious timing. Perhaps they were just waiting for Trump's nominee for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to be confirmed, but he's been on the job for two weeks. It just seems hard to believe that the administration suddenly decided that Comey's handling of the Clinton email server story was worth firing. Her server keeps detonating little bombs.

Jonah Goldberg has some smart musings
about this whole story.
3) I keep reading that this is a “Nixonian” move. I get it. But that’s not clear. President Nixon fired people in the vain hope that he could stop the bleeding. There’s no evidence that Trump was trying to kill an investigation — yet.
And then Trump couldn't resist sticking this self-aggrandizing line in his letter to thank Comey for informing him "on three separate occasions" that Trump was not under investigation. I wonder if it's standard procedure for an investigator to inform someone who is, in effect, his boss, about an investigation in which Trump is of interest.
I get what President Trump thinks he’s doing by saying this, but politically it’s the equivalent of saying “It’s not about the money.”

5) Also, for a guy who is clearly desperate to get people to move on from the Russia talk, Trump keeps doing things that make it easier to keep that storyline alive. The “wiretapping” tweets breathed new life into that story. But that’s nothing compared to what confirmation hearings for a new FBI director will do to that storyline.
The letter for firing Comey didn't mention his puzzling and egregious error in his testimony this week.
Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss....

The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

ProPublica is reporting a story on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton emails and raised questions with government officials last week about possible inaccuracies in Comey’s statements about Abedin.

It could not be learned how the mistake occurred. The FBI and Abedin declined ProPublica’s requests for comment on the director’s misstatements.

According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.
How does Comey say that there were hundreds and thousands of such emails when there were only a handful? That's not a slip of the tongue. Did Comey really think that there were that many? How did he get that idea? Or did he just make that up? Aaron Blake writes at The Fix.
To be clear, these weren't just small details that emerged from Comey's testimony on Wednesday; they were the headline for many new outlets that covered Comey's visit to the Senate Judiciary Committee, including The Post.

They were also key to Comey's testimony, in that he used them to defend his decision to disclose the new Clinton emails just 11 days before Election Day. Facing questions from Democrats about why he did what he did, Comey cited these facts as proof of the seriousness of the email discovery and the need to say something.
There are so many reasons that Comey should have been let go. As the WSJ wrote, he deserved to be dismissed.
The FBI isn’t supposed even to confirm or deny ongoing investigations, but in July 2016 Mr. Comey publicly exonerated Mrs. Clinton in the probe of her private email server on his own legal judgment and political afflatus. That should have been the AG’s responsibility, and Loretta Lynch had never recused herself.

“It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement,” Mr. Rosenstein wrote. “The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department.”

Mr. Rosenstein added that at his July 5 press appearance Mr. Comey “laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”

Then, 11 days before the election, Mr. Comey told Congress he had reopened the inquiry. His public appearances since have become a self-exoneration tour to defend his job and political standing, not least to Democrats who blame a “Comey effect” for Mrs. Clinton’s defeat. Last week Mr. Comey dropped more innuendo about the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia in testimony to Congress, while also exaggerating the new evidence that led his agents to reopen the Clinton file.
It isn't the dismissal that is controversial, but the timing with the FBI investigating Russia's interference in the election and alleged ties with the Trump campaign. Suddenly, Democrats are seeing Comey, whose head they've been calling for since October 28 as Archibald Cox. They're furious that Trump fired the guy whose firing they've been demanding for months. As usual, it's all different if Trump does it. However, as the WSJ notes, there will be plenty of leaks of the new director skimps on the investigation.
As for the Russia probe, if Mr. Trump is trying to cover up anything, firing the FBI Director is a lousy way to do it. Such a public spectacle will make details more likely to leak if agents feel their evidence is being sat on. Mr. Comey’s credibility was also tainted enough that whatever he announced at the end of the probe would have been doubted.
Reporters were citing unnamed sources within the FBI that Comey had lost the trust of the rank and file in the Bureau. Did anyone like or trust Comey by this point? It would have been much better if Trump had fired him during the transition and no one would have questioned that. It's not clear why they did it now. If it was because he followed Rosenstein's recommendation, it might be encouraging that the Deputy Attorney General seems to be a man of good judgment whose advice is being listened to.

According to Politico
, which has a story stocked with unnamed sources, Trump was angry over Comey's acknowledgement before the Senate that the FBI was still investigating the Trump campaign.
Trump had grown angry with the Russia investigation — particularly Comey admitting in front of the Senate that the FBI was investigating his campaign — and that the FBI director wouldn't support his claims that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower.
And like most Trump efforts, it was poorly organized with Trump's aides caught by surprise and having no talking points ready. I thought this guy was supposed to be some great business leader and he can't figure out to get his team all ready before he fires Comey. And typically for this White House, they're disorganized and everyone seems to be leaking to make the whole administration look worse.

What matters now is the quality of the new nominee to head the FBI. It must be someone who doesn't come out of the stable of Trump friends and associates. Let's hope that Trump nominates someone of respected probity whose nomination will be criticized only by vicious partisans. Whomever he nominates needs to be ready for some very pointed confirmation questions. The nominee will need to swear up and down the commitment to following the Russia investigation.

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For Democrats who have bought into the comforting story that it was Comey's letter about Abedin and Weiner that lost the election for Hillary, Nate Cohn casts a skeptical look at the evidence by looking at Hillary's poll numbers before the letter was issued on October 28.
But it’s now clear that Mrs. Clinton was weaker heading into Oct. 28 than was understood at the time. Several other polls were conducted over the same period that showed Mr. Trump gaining quickly on Mrs. Clinton in the days ahead of the Comey letter. And the timing of these polls — particularly the gap between when they were taken and when they were released — has probably helped to exaggerate the effect of Mr. Comey’s letter on the presidential race.

Continue reading the main story
The case for a big Comey effect hinges on the large decline in Mrs. Clinton’s lead in the polls that followed the letter. In the FiveThirtyEight model, for instance, Mrs. Clinton had nearly a six-point lead heading into the Comey letter, but just a three-point lead one week later: an apparent three-percentage-point shift against Mrs. Clinton. It seems reasonable, as many have argued, to attribute much of that decline to Mr. Comey’s decision.

But the Upshot/Siena poll of Florida is one of several surveys that challenge this interpretation. That poll was completed the night before the Comey letter, but it was not released until Sunday, two days later — a longer lag than usual, since Sunday is seen as a better day for news media coverage than Saturday.

Some analysts have used poll aggregators or forecasting models to measure the effect of the Comey letter, and they have implicitly treated this Upshot poll, and others conducted before the news but released after, as evidence of a Comey effect. But it can’t be; for example, none of the people we polled for our survey knew about the letter....

Most important, the polls taken before the letter were as bad for Mrs. Clinton as those conducted after it. Again, there aren’t many of these polls, but taken at face value there’s a case that Mrs. Clinton had nearly or even completely bottomed out by the time the Comey letter was released. Even if she had not, the trend line heading into the Comey letter was bad enough that there’s no need to assume that the Comey letter was necessary for any additional erosion in her lead.

These polls are consistent with an alternative election narrative in which the Comey letter had no discernible effect on the outcome. In this telling, Mrs. Clinton had a big lead after the third presidential debate, when the ABC/Washington Post poll opened with her ahead by 12 points and an Upshot/Siena poll of North Carolina gave her a seven-point lead. But her advantage dwindled over the following week, as post-debate coverage faded and Republican-leaning voters belatedly and finally decided to back their traditional party’s nontraditional candidate.
I know how Democrats pride themselves on believing in science and data. Will they adjust their story after reading Cohn's analysis in the NYT? Ya think?

Chris Cillizza argues
that Trump Derangement Syndrome (not his phrase) is "turning liberals into conspiracy theorists."
What's drawn less attention is how Trump's presidency has convinced liberals that every bad thing whispered about any Republican is, by default, true. Consider that in the last week alone, liberal outrage has been sparked on (at least) four occasions by alleged incidents that simply aren't accurate.
He gives the examples about how Democrats believe that the Republicans held a beer party to celebrate passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Another rumor that Democrats and the MSM reported that rape and sexual assaults would be treated as pre-existing conditions under the AHCA. And no, the FCC is just conducting a routine investigation; they're not targeting Stephen Colbert. And the chief usher of the White House was not fired because the Trumps didn't like her. All these stories circulated among liberals on social media. As Cillizza argues, there are enough legitimate reasons to be wary of Trump actions without making stuff up.
By embracing every single tweet or whisper as yet another piece of full-proof evidence of just how terrible Republicans are, Democrats run the risk of appearing like the boy who cried wolf to the public -- and in the process taking some steam out of the very legitimate questions they are asking about the Trump administration.
By the way, if people are going to be upset about a president firing a White House usher, they could review how Hillary Clinton fired long-time White House usher Chris Emery because he had talked on the phone with Barbara Bush to help her set up her laptop computer.
During the first Bush administration, Emery had been very helpful to Mrs. Bush. “We were very close. Chris taught me how to use a computer,” she told me. After leaving the White House, she was working on her memoir when she lost a chapter, so she called on Emery for help. Emery was happy to oblige—but the favor fueled the Clintons’ suspicion that the staff was too attached to the Bush family. When the Clintons saw the usher’s call logs, Emery said, they “came to the conclusion that I was sharing deep, dark secrets with the Bushes in Houston. Which I wasn’t.”
A short time later, Chief Usher Gary Walters called Emery into his office.

“Mrs. Clinton is not comfortable with you,” Walters told him. “What does that mean?” Emery asked, stunned. “It means tomorrow is your last day.” Barbara Bush admits that her phone calls to Chris “caused trouble.” Emery was scolded in public for “an amazing lack of discretion,” in the words of Hillary’s spokesman Neel Lattimore. “We believe the position that he had, as a member of the residence staff, requires the utmost respect for the first family’s privacy.”
And then there was the Travelgate story of how Hillary had seven career employees of the WHite House Travel Office fired so she could get their own friends and a Clinton cousin in there while impugning their actions and prosecutig the director, Billy Dale. And once again Hillary misled investigators but got away with it. So before Democrats go ape over false stories about the White House usher let go this week, perhaps they could take the beam out of their own eyes.

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Matthew Stewart writes at City Journal to review Jonathan Zimmerman's book, Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know, about how college administration has coddled the demands of students who are making all sorts of demands.
Since Trump’s election, dozens of colleges have sent campus-wide emails ostensibly aimed at helping students cope with the emotional turmoil occasioned by his presidency, axiomatically understood as disastrous. Priority is given to emotional comfort rather than putting current events in a historical context. Iowa State University, for example, created a “relaxation station,” where students can color and sculpt with Play-Doh while soothing music plays.

Whereas previous generations of student activists “typically fought to remove administrative rules and restrictions on campus . . . today’s students often demand more of them,” writes Zimmerman. “Indeed, almost every published demand during the November 2015 protests ‘against’ college administrations actually required more college administration.” Moreover, activists often seem unwilling to pay any serious price for their activism. They demand (a favorite activist verb) that absences be excused, that material be re-taught, that exams be delayed or dismissed, and that expectations for performance be lowered and grading standards eased....

While recognizing the obvious—that ugly epithets and stereotypes hold no place in civil discourse—Zimmerman nevertheless demurs, asserting that PC “spawns ideological orthodoxy,” closing down the range and terms of debate deemed permissible by students and professors alike. He quotes Harvard professor Randall Kennedy, who recognizes that students are manipulating the administration and professoriate with hyperbolic claims of victimization. Kennedy warns that “in the long run . . . reformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization.” Zimmerman ruefully notes that, even though federal courts have repeatedly struck down speech codes, “many universities retained [them] or added new ones, even in the face of judicial decisions prohibiting them.”

The New York Times profiles several conservatives at Berkeley to talk about what life is like for them on that liberal campus. I don't know if it is the selection of the students they profiled, but several of the students expressed that they are conservatives but don't agree with the actions of the College Republicans to invite controversial speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter in order to provoke the sorts of reactions that did indeed take place so that they could portray themselves as supporters of free speech in face of intransigence from liberals and the administration. I agree. I think that there is a qualitative difference between Coulter and Milo versus Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald even all four were blocked from speaking by protesting students. As one student said, "Ann Coulter is definitely not the hill to die on." The students also talk about the discomfort they have in classes and the criticism for their views that they have received from some professors and other students. One student talks about how these events have helped move him to the right.
When I was leaving home, going to university, I really considered myself a die-hard centrist. When I got to college, I found myself drifting more and more to the right. There is this overwhelming and prevailing orthodoxy on campus — people don’t want to expose themselves to other viewpoints.

I’ve become more vocal in what I believe in since the whole Milo Yiannopoulos event. I really felt more driven to get out of my shell. I really wanted to challenge this prevailing orthodoxy that if you are Republican, you are racist; if you are conservative, you are sexist; if you fall on the right, you are a homophobe.

There’s this idea that speech is violent, that simply by espousing a view that you don’t like I am attacking you, I am oppressing you, I am assaulting you. That view is fundamentally incompatible with a Western, liberal democratic society.

Why is it acceptable for black graduate students at Harvard to hold a separate graduation ceremony with the school's support? Apparently, this is because the black students feel that they need to do this to call attention to the difficulties that they face as minorities on college campuses. And other colleges such as Stanford, Temple, and Columbia are already having separated black graduations. Remember how universities talked about the importance of diversity to justify affirmative action admissions programs. How does the university justify a segregated graduation ceremony as part of their efforts to have a diverse experience on campus?

This is what opponents of vaccines have wrought.
Doubts about vaccines helped fuel Minnesota's biggest outbreak of measles in decades, and attracted determined vaccine skeptics eager to exploit fear, health officials say.

But the outbreak has not only caught people's attention; it has helped demonstrate that anti-vaccine activists are wrong, state and county health officials say.

At least 48 people have been infected, nearly all of them children, and 11 kids are in the hospital with pneumonia and other dangerous complications, the Minnesota department of health says. They expect more.

The doubts and fears created a "natural experiment" in which vaccination rates plummeted, and disease broke out, said David Johnson, program manager with the Hennepin County Health Department.

"What we have now is a community that was really influenced by these anti-vaccine groups. And they've performed a natural experiment: to forgo the measles vaccine based on this propaganda," Johnson told NBC News.

Somali immigrants have been the hardest hit by the outbreak, Minnesota's health department said.
These anti-vaccine activists have traveled to Minnesota to spread their poisonous message to Somali immigrants there even though there is absolutely no link between vaccination and autism.

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Steve Forbes has an article looking at how the Pentagon wastes money in procurement. For decades new Defense Secretaries have come into office vowing to cut back on wasteful spending and speed up the whole purchasing process. And year after year the entrenched bureaucracy defeats such attempts. The result is not only a vast waste of money, but in some cases, many American lives.
Every step in the development of a new weapon requires clearing major bureaucratic hurdles that add years of delay. These mind-numbing, molasses-laden obstacle courses are spelled out in the Defense Department's "bible" entitled "Operation of the Defense Acquisition System." During these innumerable reviews, thousands of change orders are made to reflect new wants and new "improvements," what critics dub "requirement creep." Anyone who has been involved in remodeling a home knows how expensive and delay-inducing changes made during a project can be.
Forbes gives several examples of how the bureaucracy has made decisions that cost lives of Americans. In the study of government, we talk about Iron Triangles in which congressional committees, bureaucratic agencies, and interest groups work together to maximize their power. Bureaucrats work to make the interest groups and congressmen happy rather than to fulfill the ostensible mission of their agencies. The way that Pentagon bureaucrats work with defense industry contractors, lobbyists, and members of Congress is a perfect example of how this works.
Cost-plus contracting gives providers no incentive to control expenses. The bigger the price tag, the bigger the profit. And, of course, there's the dirty, not-so-secret year-end splurge--managers are gigged if they don't spend every dime they have. Savings could mean you'll get less next year.

Gumming up the process further are additional regulations imposed by other government agencies, such as the EPA and OSHA.
Forbes recommends that Defense Secretary Mattis follow the recommendations from a report finished back in 2015 of how to overhaul the development and procurement process. The Pentagon immediately sank that report.
Assisted by a passel of knowledgeable McKinsey & Co. consultants, the board engaged in an unprecedented deep dive into all facets of the Pentagon, unearthing numerous agencies and data systems.

The waste and stupendous inefficiencies uncovered by the board stunned even the most jaded observers. Just dealing with administrative waste would save at least $125 billion over five years.

No surprise, the Empire struck back. The Pentagon did everything it could to pretend the report never existed or to dismiss it as "naive" and "superficial." When the exhaustive study was done, a 77-page summary was posted on a Defense Department website. It was quickly expunged.
Forbes provides another example of how the Pentagon's bureaucrats have blocked improvements that were better and would save money.
There's a battle being waged by an ethical contractor against the Pentagon that exemplifies this problem. Palantir, a software outfit, came up with a data-analytics platform that would give troops in the field just about all the information they needed on a tablet, ranging from weather to the latest local intelligence. The cost: about $100 million a year. As recounted by Steven Brill in an excellent Fortune article, the Army wanted nothing to do with it, choosing "instead to favor an updated version of a deeply flawed system created by a team of [traditional] defense contractors that ... produced cascading cost overruns, and bills of nearly $6 billion." Field troops despise the Army's version and love Palantir's (a number of local commanders used local, discretionary funds to get the Palantir platform). One Marine colonel wrote: "Marines are alive today because of the capability of this system." Yet the Defense Department is waging a jihad against Palantir, playing every bureaucratic trick it can to keep it from bidding on the contract.
There are other actions that the Defense Secretary could take to cut through red tape. I hope that this administration will not follow the path of so many other Defense Secretaries who have been defeated by the permanent bureaucracy.

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Sports Illustrated has an interesting behind-the-scene look
at what lengths the businessman will go to in order to produce free giveaway playoff T-shirts for sports teams. I hadn't thought about the difficulties of producing shirts of the correct color and how the company has to make sure that they have enough shirts on hand. Here's one anecdote of the challenges that Todd Schneiderman of SomethingInked sometimes faced.
In the 2014 NBA Finals, SomethingInked provided giveaway t-shirts for both the Spurs and the Heat. San Antonio originally had no plans to provide shirts for that Sunday’s Game 5, but after the soon-to-be champions emerged victorious in a Thursday-night Game 4, Schneiderman promised the organization he could have 22,000 shirts printed and in the Alamo for the ultimate game. “The next thing you know, I got handed a large amount of money to go find different items,” Schneiderman said. Mathematically, however, time would not allow for printing the massive order in Nashville and trucking the shirts to San Antonio.

Schneiderman put them on a plane. He phoned Southwest, which deemed they had to divide the hundreds of boxes onto four separate aircrafts. That’s when true bedlam ensued. Two portions of the boxes landed in Dallas, another in Los Angeles and the fourth in New Orleans. “So, you can imagine the call I got,” Schneiderman said. He hired a truck to ship the shirts from NOLA and Dallas to San Antonio and, without other options, chartered a private plane to deliver the batch from L.A. The entire order arrived by 8:30 in the morning on Sunday. The Spurs’ cast of 300 people finished laying the shirts out on each chair by 11 a.m., three minutes before doors opened. “A little crooked,” Schneiderman said. “but they were there.”