Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cruising the Web

David Harsanyi argues that Democrats' concerns about checks and balances would be much more credible if they had had similar concerns when Obama's use of executive power.
Fact is, we’ve had (at least) two norm-busting presidents with authoritarian impulses in a row. Both believe in ruling with a pen and a personality, disregarding process whenever it suits their political purposes. One was a thoughtful-sounding, charismatic force, and a talented fibber; a virtuoso at erecting strawmen and offering false choices. He pushed his party farther to the Left than it has ever been. The other is a clumsy and transparent fibber, an incompetent novice, pushing his party into whatever ideologically untethered position is catching his fancy at the moment. Only one of these men, however, was given a free pass by most people in the institutional media because his progressive ideological outlook pleases their sensibilities.

You don’t trust Donald Trump to name an FBI director, even though it’s within his purview to do so? Well, I don’t trust Barack Obama to enter into faux treaties with a bunch of nations without Senate approval or to unilaterally legalize millions of people without Congress. I understand that you find those unilateral decisions morally comforting, but if process and norms matter they should always matter. (An example of the opposite would be an ACLU lawyer who argues that Trump’s immigration order might have been constitutional had Hillary signed it. This undermines trust.)

While there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around, Democrats’ newfound adoration of checks and balances simply isn’t credible. And once that trust has been eroded, it’s difficult to regain it. Most Americans aren’t impressed by procedure. So why would they surrender power when they’re certain you will abuse it again four years from now?

Speaking of the hypocrisy of the Democrats, this is an amusing story, except for the individuals involved.
After championing the $15 minimum wage in their party platform, Democrats are facing a class-action lawsuit over failure to pay overtime. Field workers in various states are suing the DNC and state Democratic parties on the grounds that their 80-90 hour work weeks in the heat of the campaign qualify them for overtime payment, rather than their agreed upon salary of $2,500-$3,000 per month.

Field workers are plentiful and cheap, so Democratic operatives are naturally arguing that the plaintiffs don’t have a case because the supply of inexpensive labor allowed the party to pay them so little. “The number of young people who want to work on campaigns is infinite,” Democratic consultant Neil Oxman said.
Really? Is that an excuse for employers to pay workers less if there are lots of replacement workers out there who are willing to work for low pay.
If a multitude of people are willing to work at what Democrats call a “starvation wage,” then it makes sense for the DNC to pay them just that. (Whether their motives are “love” for Democratic candidates or connections and resume enhancement is another topic.) However, attorney Justin Swidler, who is bringing the case, called that move “obscene.”
So the DNC is balking on paying its employees overtime all the while they were paying some DNC executives bonuses over $300,000.
These field workers’ “love” for Hillary Clinton may be cold comfort while they’re waiting for their lawsuit to make its way through the courts, but the executives who just got six-figure bonuses are probably seeing the grieving process get much easier.

And labor leaders are not immune from their own style of hypocrisy. The AFL-CIO are criticizing the average pay for CEOs at the S&P 500 companies as earning $13.1 million and the contrast to what average workers earn making a “CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 347 to 1.” Bu Austin Yack points out, that if we look at all CEOs, the facts look a bit different.
But the AFL-CIO report neglected to include the average salary for all CEOs in the U.S. in 2016, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $194,350. These same union leaders who criticize the salaries of CEOs earned on average $252,370 in 2016 — nearly $60,000 more than their private-sector counterparts.

The Center for Union Facts, the union watchdog that unveiled the average presidential salary from nearly 200 unions, found that some union leaders are earning lucrative salaries north of $700,000.

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John Soloman summarizes the stories that the media got totally wrong last week in their reporting on Comey, Trump, and the Russia investigation. He points out how the media have elided two stories and succeeded in confusing people.
CNN went live with an exclusive the night Comey was fired, reporting that grand jury subpoenas were issued to associates of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn seeking business records in the Russia case.

But with one slight turn of hand, CNN’s legitimate scoop was crafted to suggest there had been some correlation to Comey’s firing.

“CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey,” the network reported.

I was at a lunch counter at a Baltimore restaurant 48 hours later when some of the customers got into a conversation about Comey’s firing. To a number, each had seen or heard the CNN report and each was left with the impression that Comey was probably fired because he had asked for the grand jury subpoenas and was “getting closer to Trump.”

I chimed in, explaining the grand jury subpoenas were issued a week or more before Comey’s firing and that they were approved by the Justice Department and its U.S. Attorney in eastern Virginia, Dana Boente, because the FBI can’t issue subpoenas on its own.

Boente was appointed by Barack Obama and trusted enough by Trump to temporarily be named acting attorney general earlier this year, I added.

I also explained that Comey had told Congress that Trump is not even a target of the Russia probe, something confirmed by Republicans and Democrats alike.

After those explanations, nearly everyone at the counter had a far different perception about the relevance of CNN’s report.

“So Trump’s Justice Department or its prosecutor could have said no and blocked the probe but didn’t?” one patron, an avowed Democrat, asked rhetorically. “That’s way different than what I thought.”

No one would doubt that the subpoenas were a legitimate story. But its juxtaposition to Comey’s firing - whether intentional or not -- clearly had an impact on the public that doesn’t understand the intricacies of the justice system.
I would guess that that was a feature, not a bug of the media's coverage.

Jazz Shaw remembers when the media and Democrats used to call the Republicans "the Party of No."
I’m old enough to remember when the Republicans were in the minority in Congress and the Democrats held the White House as well. At that time, the GOP was popularly referred to as the Party of No, and some outlets like the Huffington Post were not only applying that tag to them, but calling for the party to be abolished as a result of it. My, what a difference eight years can make, eh? The worm has turned and now the Democrats are on the less enviable side of the equation. But the key difference now is that being the Party of No is suddenly cool. And the leader of that movement is none other than Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Now Schumer is saying the Democrats should block any FBI Director nominee until there is a special counsel appointed to investigate collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
In terms of whether or not there should be a special counsel to head up an investigation, an inquiry by the Judiciary Committee or if we should simply leave it in the hands of the FBI, that’s a valid question for debate. If we take off our partisan hats for a bit we can probably find at least some merit in all of those ideas. But there’s one point where I would hope no rational person could disagree: the FBI needs to have a Director in place. You may not be wild about the choice and some Senators may even want to shoot down the first nominee and ask for another selection. But the process needs to move forward under the regular rules of order.

If the Senate Minority Leader wants to take a stand and hold that position vacant unless he gets something else which is only tangentially related first, he’s going beyond simple obstruction. He’s holding the system hostage and it’s being done for partisan political purposes. But should we really be surprised? Schumer staked out this territory early on. He’s been attacking nearly all of President Trump’s agenda since the inauguration, with the only exceptions being when he thought he could get Trump to sign on to something the rest of the Republicans would hate. (Such as health care.) When Trump gave a widely applauded speech at the end of February laying out a dizzying array of proposals which crossed party lines, Schumer couldn’t think of a single thing he would agree with.

The Democrats are now 100% the Party of No. This would almost be amusing if it weren’t for the “about face” the media has done in suddenly determining that obstructionism is patriotic and in the nation’s best interest.

President Obama got a big paycheck to speak on the Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan but as Julie Kelly notes, he contradicted himself within his own speech. First he talked about how climate change is endangering food production and leading to food shortages that will get far worse as climate change continues.” And this will lead to more global problems: “We’ve already seen shrinking yields and spiking food prices that in some cases are leading to political instability.” Of course this is not true.
But for most of the world outside, say, Venezuela or North Korea, this is simply not the case. Yields continue to rise in every major crop. High food prices, scarcity, and hunger are almost always the result of failed government and economic systems, not the methane emissions of cows.
But why bother with facts when there is fear-mongering to be done. However, Kelly notes the internal contradictions in his speech.
And yet Obama seemed unsure of his own message. For at the same time, he added, producing food is also a major cause of climate change: “Food production is the second-leading driver of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions . . . and if we don’t change course, the World Bank predicts that by 2050, agriculture and land use change may account for as much as 70 percent of global GHG emissions.” In short, we aren’t making enough food because of climate change . . . but making all this food is causing climate change.

Obama also seemed to contradict himself on the effectiveness of the Paris climate accord. Although he repeatedly defended it, he acknowledged that “even if every country somehow puts the brakes on the emissions that exist today, climate change would still have an impact on our world for years to come.” Then again, he said, “if we act boldly and swiftly . . . in favor of the air that our young people will breathe,” then “it won’t be too late.” Act boldly now so our kids can live their dreams . . . in a world that still has climate change....

Some people, even in the administration, might be looking for a convincing case about why we should remain in the Paris climate pact, but the former president didn’t make it in Milan. Instead, Obama’s comments were yet another example of the kind of meandering, vague, and contradictory collection of hypothetical scenarios that the climate tribe loves to peddle.

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As far as the story from the Washington Post that Trump leaked code-word level information in his meeting with the Russians in the Oval Office, who knows? I do know that we have leaks from anonymous sources who given that that some are described as former officials indicating that they were probably Obama officials versus the three people who were in the room with Trump, National Security Advisor HR McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Senior Adviser for policy, Dina Powell, who all deny the story. So we have people, especially General McMaster who is widely respected, saying it didn't happen. We have leakers giving out what Trump is supposed to have said in that room, boasting
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.
Well, who would know that? The Russians and the three other American officials in the room. If you discount that McMaster, Tillerson, and Powell were the ones leaking, doesn't that leave us with the Russians being the ones doing the leak?

However, as Jonah Goldberg writes, it is actually plausible that it did happen. And that is scary.
I don’t know if the Washington Post story is accurate, but I do think it’s entirely plausible. Put aside whether the story is properly sourced and all that. When you heard the news, did you think it could be true?

If your answer is yes, think about that for a moment. That right there is a problem.

No, I don’t think for a moment that Trump deliberately divulged to the Russians classified information at an event covered by Russian media (but not American media) the day after he fired the FBI director for not doing more to end the investigation of his campaign’s alleged involvement with the Russians. That’s “resistance” paranoia stuff.

But the idea that Trump — with his irrepressible need to boast to the point of narcissistic incontinence combined with his lackadaisical approach to the nuts-and-bolts demands of the job — somehow just let something slip is utterly and completely believable. It was apparently believable to various members of his own administration.

What’s harder to believe, however, is the idea that H. R. McMaster lied tonight. McMaster is a heroic figure with credibility and integrity to burn. But if you put aside McMaster’s reputation and just listen to what he said, his statement tonight was pretty thin. He denied things not alleged in the Washington Post story “as reported” and then, after 60 seconds, walked away without taking a single question.

The folks insisting that McMaster’s statement settles the issue should wrestle with a few questions:

Why not take any questions?

Why not address the details of the story?

Why deny things not alleged?

Why did intelligence officials urge the Post to withhold key details if this is “fake news”?

....I have a lot of faith in and respect for McMaster. But it’s worth recalling that just last week, the White House insisted that the president fired James Comey on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general. The vice president repeatedly said as much. Within 24 hours that storyline was discredited. Within days, the president himself threw the vice president and his communications team under the bus in his interview with Lester Holt. Donald Trump’s track record of screwing people who vouch for him is truly impressive. So is his ability to put honorable people in no-win situations.

You’d think that people would at least be somewhat chastened by this fact and take a wait and see, or even trust-but-verify, approach.

In other words, I get why you don’t trust the Washington Post. I don’t get why you trust the Trump administration.
I can't get past the idea that we have leakers calling the Washington Post to give out this story and gave them the details of what Trump was supposed to have said to the Russians including the key component - the name of the city from which we got this information. So they called the press to report Trump for leaking and then leaked that same information to the media. In other words, they so wanted to give out a story to make Trump look bad that they themselves leaked the highest priority classified information.

But Goldberg is correct, it's possible to doubt the Washington Post and also doubt President Trump. And that's a troubling place to be.

Allahpundit also
has his doubts.
No excerpt can do the full story justice, right down to details about Trump sometimes ignoring the short summaries his briefers prepare for him before he talks to foreign leaders. (“Does he understand what’s classified and what’s not?” wondered one former intel official. “That’s what worries me.”) Trump fans on Twitter are pointing to a quote in the piece from H.R. McMaster that seems at first blush to deny the story, but doesn’t really: “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” Right, but WaPo didn’t claim that Trump had revealed sources. They claimed that he had revealed a key detail about location that Russian intelligence could use to try to figure out how the U.S. partner who detected the ISIS aviation threat knows what it knows. McMaster’s statement sounds like a non-denial denial. “Russia could identify our sources or techniques” based on the information Trump gave them, said one senior U.S. official.

Democrats have taken to retweeting these old bon mots from last July, after Comey’s press conference about Hillary’s email carelessness
If it's true, how to people in the national security team contain Trump if, as people are leaking to the media say, he continually ignores the importance of keeping classified information secret?
If you’re a U.S. natsec professional, how do you prevent this from happening again? Start withholding information from the president? There’s no way to stop him from blurting out classified info in the course of conversation once the conversation’s begun. The only way is to keep it from him in the first place. Although the fact that this incredibly embarrassing mishap has been leaked may be their way of trying to shame Trump into preparing more diligently for meetings going forward and being far more careful about what he says. (Especially since he’s leaving on his first foreign trip as president soon.) In the end, maybe the only way to get through to him is with bad press.

Ponder this.

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This is rather despicable behavior by a U.S. Congressman.
There are congressmen you can hit and some that you just can't criticize. With deep pockets and deeper connections, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., is the latter. Unfortunately for Saily Avelenda, nobody told her until it was too late.

Formerly a full-time legal counsel at a local bank and a part-time political activist, Avelenda became involved with a protest group after the election, pushing her congressman to hold town halls. That civic engagement ultimately ended up with her resigning her job.

Frelinghuysen sent a fundraising form letter in March to a board member of Lakeland Bank in New Jersey. Standard fare for Republican form letters, it warned about forces conspiring "to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth and stronger national security." But this copy of the mailer was notable because of a small blue asterisk and short note at the end.

"P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!", Frelinghuysen scrawled at the bottom in blue ink, setting in motion a series of events that ended with Avelenda's resignation.

Though Avelenda wasn't fired, after her boss came into her office with the letter and a news article quoting her, it became clear she couldn't work at the local bank anymore. "Needless to say," she told WNYC, "that did cause some issues at work that were difficult to overcome."
She didn't have to resign, but a Congressman shouldn't be singling out an individual if it's true that all she did was call for him to hold town hall meetings. It might be unpleasant to head to those town halls and be abused by constituents, but that's part of their jobs. Conservatives were happy when Democrats faced hostile town hall meetings over Obamacare; they should be willing to explain themselves to their constituents. I agree that outside protesters can be screened out of the meetings, but if people live in the district, those people should be free to question and hear from their representative. Frelinghuysen could learn from the example of his fellow New Jersey GOP representative, Tom MacArthur, who faced hostile questioning for close to five hours in a town hall. It seems that people were very angry and some were filled with misconceptions such as the no debunked idea that the GOP AHCA classified rape as a pre-existing condition. It must have been a brutal experience for MacArthur, but he should also get kudos for staying there and answering all those question one after another. That's what I would like from my representative. The more that congressmen can do that, the better the opportunity they have to get their message out there. Sure the media will concentrate on how hostile the group was, but I hope other constituents of MacArthur read that story and thought, "Geez, it was pretty stand-up of him to stay there for almost five hours and stand up for himself.

NYU Law School professor Richard Epstein writes in Vox to explain why the reaction to Comey's firing has been so overblown.
There are of course many reasons why one might oppose Trump’s decision to fire Comey, but none of them remotely deserve the hyperbolic responses that Comey’s termination has elicited. There are two sides to every story, and in this case the other side has, at least for the moment, the better of the argument.
He goes on to praise the Rosenstein memo explaining why Comey deserved to be fired. There were so many reasons to criticize Comey's conduct of the investigation of Clinton from the very beginning. These are some of the details that I'd forgotten from even before his July, 2016 public statement.
But, if anything, he understated the case against Comey. First, Comey treated the initial investigation of Hillary Clinton back in March 2015 with kid gloves. There were the inexcusable decisions to grant immunities to key Clinton backers without first serving them with a subpoena that would have allowed the FBI to extract a quid pro quo for any immunity that thereafter might be granted. Second, the FBI allowed Clinton’s key aide Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s former chief of staff, to act as her legal counsel, even though she herself was a legitimate target of investigation who could have faced charges. And they did not conduct any of the ambush interviews that are commonly given in cases where criminal prosecution is warranted. The obvious inference is that Comey was kowtowing to his superiors in the Obama White House.
He then goes on to explain why it is not enough to say that the FBI was conducting an investigation touching on the President and so Comey could not be fired by Trump.
It requires contortions to convert an action that has independent justification into one that prompts talk of obstruction of justice and impeachment. In effect, one difficulty with that extravagant assertion is that it makes Comey de facto immovable from office so long as he continues to conduct this investigation. That cannot be the proper analysis because Comey has many other administrative responsibilities, including maintaining morale inside the office. No one should be able to guarantee his term in office by conducting a nonstop investigation of the president....

Nor is there anything to the claim that Trump has acted as a despot. Despots remove people in order to take over all the organs of government themselves. Cassidy seems to think the president has it within his power to appoint a successor to Comey entirely on his own, when the position requires confirmation by the Senate.
Of course, it will depend on whom Trump nominates, but one thing the outrage has achieved is to forestall any sort of political nomination such as CHris Christie. If Trump were to be so misguided as to nominate a political crony, it is likely he would lose at least three GOP votes on confirmation. Epstein's conclusion is about where I come down on all this. I think the President could fire Comey, but the timing was poor and the execution of the whole action was stupidly done with Trump's various statements and tweets exacerbated the damage.
At present, therefore, the near-hysterical charges against Trump on the underlying claims of impropriety are not supported. Given the mercurial state of affairs, the critics in Washington should hold their fire until they have something more concrete to go on. The great tragedy is that too many voices are so rigidly and irretrievably anti-Trump — so opposed to him on every aspect of domestic policy and foreign policy — that it clouds their judgment.

My view is somewhat different. I think that Trump à la carte is the only way to look at him: horrible on some issues, and sound on others. In this case, it is too soon to reach a definitive verdict, but here is my tentative conclusion about this current controversy: Where there is no smoke, there is no fire. Let the smoke appear, and we can and should reevaluate. But that time has not yet come.

In addition to misleading Congress and the public about the Iran deal, some former Obama officials are working to forestall new sanctions on Iran.
The congressional push coincides with the launch of an organization backed by former Obama officials, with Secretary of State John Kerry at the fore, many of whom are vocal opponents of the sanctions legislation. The group, Diplomacy Works, aims to "promote, protect, and preserve" the nuclear deal by informing and influencing lawmakers, experts, and others, according to a statement on its website....

Another long-time Middle East expert closely involved in the fight against the deal said the officials are mobilizing to ensure that lawmakers do not impose additional pressure on Iran.

"The same people who promised that the nuclear deal would enable Congress to push back against Iran—literally the very same people—are now mobilizing to prevent any pressure against Iran over its threats to us and our allies," the adviser told TWS.

This is what happens when young people are encouraged to search out opportunities to complain and assume victim status. Now we have students complaining that wood paneling in a university building is inappropriate because “minority students felt marginalized by quiet, imposing masculine paneling.” Huh? Does that make sense in anyone's mind? In you are intimidated by wood paneling and see it as too masculine, you need to take a sip from a big, tall "Get over yourself" latte.