Monday, May 22, 2017

Cruising the Web

Andrew McCarthy explains why he's "slack-jawed" over the report that Trump was badmouthing James Comey in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.
After months of investigation, congressional hearings, and a major report released by the FBI, CIA and NSA, there is no publicly known evidence of a concerted effort between Trump associates and Russian operatives to influence the election. Yet, Trump continues to act and obsess like a guilty person. My guess is that he is sure there is nothing to the Trump-Russia suspicions, he is angry over the way the narrative is hurting his presidency, and an incorrigible character flaw induces him to lash out in childish ways.

Nevertheless, any thinking person would grasp, under the circumstances, that such foolish statements would be leaked and spun as informing his Russian co-conspirators that he pink-slipped Comey because he was worried about the “great pressure” the Russia narrative is causing him (i.e., consciousness of guilt) – rather than exasperated by it.
As Williamson points out, even if this is an accurate report of what Trump told the Russians, it doesn't mean that Trump obstructed the investigation or actually colluded with the Russians. What it does indicate is that Trump has a very skewed idea of who the good and bad guys are in this whole story. And a man of judgment would recognize that there is no universe where the Russian officials are somehow more deserving of his trust and confidence than James Comey.
No, the real question raised by the president’s latest intemperate remarks and the company in which they were made is whether the president knows the good guys from the bad guys.

Jim Comey is a patriot. That I have disagreed with him on some big things, does not change that. Disagreeing is what Americans do – that’s self-government by people who care passionately about how we are governed.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that I am wrong. Let’s say that, as Sean Spicer says, Comey is a grandstander who has intentionally politicized an investigation in order to undermine the president. He’s still not the Russians. “America First,” remember? Comey is an American who believes in America; Lavrov and Kislyak are Putin operatives who oppose America at every turn. Comey believes in freedom and the rule of law; the Putin regime believes in Soviet tyranny and the rule of Putin.

Comey is one of us. Lavrov and Kislyak are two of them.

There is no excuse for a president of the United States to run down an American for the consumption of our Russian adversaries – particularly an American who is fighting against Russia’s operations against our country. It is indefensible. If President Obama had a meeting with Iranian diplomats at which he insulted, say, former ambassador John Bolton in an apparent effort to ingratiate himself with our enemies, we would be ballistic – and justifiably so.

The problem with this incident is not that it makes more likely the possibility that Trump colluded with Russia. The problem is that it suggests that Trump isn’t distinguishing friend from foe, Americans from America’s enemies.
But that isn't how Trump divides up the world. In his mind there are those people who support him and those who don't. The former are good and admirable; the latter are "nutjobs."

Kevin Williamson adds,
Trump is of course incompetent, but this cannot be a surprise. During the campaign, it was obvious that he did not know, e.g., how a bill becomes a law, or what the limits of presidential power are, or how the Constitution works. He cannot staff his own administration — thousands of positions remain vacant, including a number of critically important ambassadorships — and complains that he cannot control the leaks in his administration, apparently unable to understand that it is not yet his administration and will not be until he puts his own people into office. He has a great deal of work to do....

But here’s the thing: For all the risible and irresponsible cries of “Treason!” and “Obstruction of justice!” there is not really much reason to believe that Trump has done much of anything wrong — though perhaps the special counsel will learn otherwise — certainly nothing that rises to the level of a treason charge (this is ridiculous talk, but it nonetheless must be taken seriously), or the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that would lead to impeachment, or to the incapacity that would allow for his removal under the 25th Amendment. Trump does not know what he is doing, and he is not very good at this job, but there’s no law against that. It is not unconstitutional to be a fool.
I'm just struck by how many of the mini crises and scandals since Trump appeared on the scene have been of his own making. During the campaign he would make insulting, reckless, ignorant comments and the cognoscenti would opine that this would be the end of his candidacy. I was often amazed at how he got away with saying things, any one of which would have sunk another candidate. Apparently, that gave him a false sense of his invulnerability. And his supporters might still believe in him and have total contempt for his critics. However, actually governing is more than winning over enough voters in key electoral states. Now he has to win over recalcitrant and worried congressmen who want to keep their jobs and would like to be enacting the policies they have been thinking for years about enacting under a Republican president. But little of that can get done if all the nation's attention is focused on the latest tweet or leak.

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As Fred Barnes points out, coverage of Trump dominates everything in the media.
Trump's dominance can be distorting. Democrats have become exempt from media scrutiny. All that's required for coverage is to attack Trump and await his response. Should a Republican assail the president or simply quibble with something he said, the greater the coverage.

A final point. Monopolizing public attention doesn't signal success. I don't think it advances his agenda. It creates too many enemies: the media, Democrats and the left, non-whites, the rest of the world. His path to success has not been turbocharged.
The President is making a very important foreign trip this week. He gave a striking speech to Muslims yesterday. Yet attention is focused on some leaks of what he did or didn't say to Comey or the Russians. I'd prefer to see more discussion of whether it is a good policy to tilt back toward Saudi Arabia and other Arab states instead of Obama's tilt toward Iran and what Trump's call for a partnership with those Arab states would mean.
The timing comes full circle from the start of Barack Obama’s eight-year tilt toward Iran. That tilt began with Mr. Obama’s silence as Iranian leaders stole the 2009 presidential election while arresting and killing democratic protesters. He then spent two terms courting Iran in pursuit of his nuclear deal while downgrading relations with the Gulf Arabs, Israel and Egypt. Mr. Trump’s weekend meetings and Sunday speech show he is reversing that tilt as he tries to revive U.S. alliances and credibility in the Middle East.

Friday’s vote in Iran was more recoronation than re-election. The unelected Guardian Council of mullahs disqualified more than 1,600 candidates. The remaining six represented the narrow ideological spectrum approved by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards. That includes Mr. Rouhani, who is often called a moderate in the West but has presided over continuing domestic repression and regional aggression.

Mr. Rouhani will probably honor the broad terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, not least because it has provided the mullahs a much-needed financial reprieve from sanctions. The regime is likely to exploit the accord at the margins, however, including ballistic-missile launches and technical progress in secret that could allow a nuclear breakout when most of the accord’s major restrictions sunset in eight to 13 years.

Contrary to Mr. Obama’s hopes, there is no evidence that the nuclear deal has changed Iran’s hostility to the U.S. or its designs for regional dominance. The Revolutionary Guards continue to support Bashar Assad’s marauding in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq, the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, and Houthis in Yemen. Tehran sees the Gulf states as a collection of illegitimate Sunni potentates who must bow before Shiite-Persian power—and the U.S. as the only power that can stop its ambitions.

This is the strategic backdrop for Mr. Trump’s visit to Riyadh, which was remarkable for the public display of support for the U.S. alliance. The Saudis have long preferred to cooperate with the U.S. in more low-key fashion. But they laid on a summit of regional Arab leaders, announced substantial ($110 billion) new arms purchases and investment in the U.S., and offered Mr. Trump the chance to deliver his first speech as President on U.S. relations with the Muslim world.
This is worth discussing as well as whether the President should have brought up human rights violations and women's rights in discussions with Saudi leaders.

For those on the right who reflexively defend Trump against all attacks and lash out at those who venture any who offer the slightest criticism, David French has some reflections on the demands for such blind loyalty.
Next, when we speak about “teams,” let’s define terms. My “side” isn’t just the side that supports limited government, the original meaning of the Constitution, and a strong (and realistic) commitment to national defense. It’s the side that supports those values with honor and integrity. I’m opposed to those who either oppose those values or choose to advance them dishonorably. Now, given that definition, is Michael Flynn on “my team?” How about Paul Manafort? Given the manifold and multiplying allegations of misconduct against both of those men, there is no reason for loyalty and no reason to stop or curtail investigations into their activities — no matter how much Donald Trump may want the inquiries to go away.
Perhaps all the allegations about Flynn's connections with foreign governments and whether or not he told the Trump transition team about those those connections are false. We haven't heard his defense and all we've heard are media leaks. But aren't these allegations worth investigating? And, if they're true, don't they bring Trump's judgment into question?
As for morality, it’s simply childish to assert that another man’s misconduct and lies justify your own dishonesty. “They lie and win, therefore one must lie to win” isn’t even logically coherent. Much, much less is it morally defensible. When values matter — and they do — the urgent political and cultural task is to persuade the public of the importance of those values while modeling them as best as imperfect people can.

And no, fighting with integrity doesn’t mean that you’re not fighting. One of the great hoaxes of the Trump era is the idea that fighting like Trump defines what it means to fight. False. Republican politicians in contested elections in key swing states outperformed Trump despite campaigning differently and with far, far more integrity. Fighting dirty is not the same thing as fighting well.

Finally, the true record of leftist success is cultural, not political, and it’s not the product of reflexive loyalty to dishonest politicians but rather a generations-long march through the key institutions of American culture — the academy, Hollywood, the media, and even large segments of American Christianity.The Left has not only captured these institutions, it’s largely slammed the door on its way in — closing these communities to meaningful conservative influence. Bill Clinton couldn’t have survived impeachment, for example, without the cultural changes that relaxed American morality. His short-term political win piggybacked on a much longer-term (and far more significant) leftist cultural victory in the sexual revolution.

A Republican party that mimics Democratic scandal management is a party that would forfeit its principles for the sake of adopting the tactics of the losing political side. And it would do so in a way that harms its credibility in the longer and far more important cultural fight. The moment when social-justice hysteria and radical intolerance are causing millions of citizens to shake their heads is not the time to adopt fact-free brawling and blind loyalty as the signature styles of the American conservative movement.

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Salena Zito has some advice for the journalists in the MSM. She points out how, in the past 20-30 years, journalists have become more similar in their values and habits and that those attitudes are reflected in their coverage.
Pro-tip, don't think people can't pick up an inference, even the most subtle, in the written word. It is as evident as a news anchor rolling his eyes at someone on his panel he doesn't agree with.

Same goes for job losses, particularly in coal mines or manufacturing. News reports filled with how those job losses help the environment are not going to sit well with the person losing their job. Also: Just because they have a job that faces an environmental challenge does not mean they hate the environment.

For 20 years these news organizations, along with CBS, NBC and ABC, were the only game in town. They served as gatekeepers of information, and as their newsrooms became more and more detached from the center of the country, consumers began to become detached from them.

And then along came the Internet. Not only were different sources now available, but news aggregators such as Drudge made it easy to find things giving everyone access to "alternative facts."

The universe of information expanded, and it became clear that what Peter Jennings, Dan Rather or the New York Times told consumers was not the whole story, and if you were a conservative (and a plurality of Americans self-identify as center right) you lost all trust in the mainstream media.

It took 17 years for that pressure to build not just among conservatives but also Democrats who came from a family of New Deal ideals who became weary of the constant misrepresentation and belittling of the traditions they held dear: church, family, guns and life.

The result was a populist explosion against all things big: big companies, big banks, big institutions and big media. The movement went undetected by the D.C. and New York centralized press not because they are bad people, not because they had an ax to grind against the center of the country. They just didn't know them. They did not know anyone like them, or if they did it reminded them of all the things they despised about their upbringing, and they wanted to correct those impulses.

And so they missed it. They were a little shocked by the support for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, and they were really shocked by the support candidate Donald J. Trump received in the primaries

And they were really, really shocked by his win.

The problem journalists face right now is that they have never really acknowledged his win appropriately, at least not in the eyes of the people who voted for him.
Although there has been some naval-gazing in the media to try and figure out why they missed the results in 2016, they quickly reverted to the conclusion that Trump is an illegitimate president and so anything goes in how they cover him.
Since the day he won, the inference that his win was illegitimate has been everywhere. It set the tone in the relationship between the voters and the press that has only soured since November of last year.

The press acknowledging Trump's victory would go a long way to begin winning that trust back with conservatives and his broader coalition of voters.

You see, they aren't just conservatives. If reporters would go out and talk to them, and more importantly listen to them, they would understand who they are.

And that visit should be done by car, no flying in and staying at the airport Marriot and getting points — drive. Learn their community, their needs, their values and their perspective.

Kimberley Strassel offers up a caveat to the almost universal praise for Robert Mueller's integrity. Who knew that the most honorable person in government under either Bush or Obama was the FBI director. It's a pleasure to know that such a man was in the federal government - we don't often read about someone who served for so long in government and left with his reputation intact and who is admired by leaders of both parties.
That’s because the new guy is as skilled and upright as they come. A Robert Mueller word-association game would go something like this: integrity, honor, respect, order, discipline, honesty, fairness. He is a decorated Marine, a Princeton grad, a respected federal prosecutor and a former FBI director. Mr. Mueller has tackled strongmen and terrorists, working under Republicans and Democrats. He has little use for the press or the limelight, which—in the current hysterical environment—is a singular qualification.

In short, nobody doubts Mr. Mueller will lead as professional an investigation as he is capable of conducting.
But there is one caveat - will he be able to be fair in his assessment of the FBI's work and James Comey?
What’s more, he’s a longtime colleague of none other than James Comey. Garrett M. Graff, a Mueller biographer, wrote in Politico this week that Mr. Comey “treated Mueller as a close friend and almost mentor.” The two men have worked together, socialized together, and once even threatened to resign together. It was Mr. Mueller as FBI head who was with Mr. Comey, then deputy attorney general, during the infamous 2004 showdown with the Bush administration over NSA spying.

All this matters because Mr. Comey is now a central figure in the Russia drama—no matter what Democrats say. Mr. Rosenstein has charged Mr. Mueller with investigating not merely Russian interference in the election, but “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” This presumably includes the recent firing of Mr. Comey. Democrats claim Mr. Trump dismissed the FBI director to halt further probing into his alleged Russia ties. The White House claims Mr. Comey was canned for his multiple breaches of protocol. Someone must discover the truth.

But how objective can even the upright Mr. Mueller be about the conduct of an old colleague, part of the same FBI club? How likely is Mr. Mueller to evaluate objectively the president who unceremoniously fired that associate and friend?

The same question applies to the actions of current and former FBI and Justice Department officials—which need to be investigated. At this point, the only crime shown in the entire Russia investigation is the leaking of classified information, particularly Mike Flynn’s name from surveillance transcripts. Given the FBI’s ability to unmask such names, along with its outsize role in the Russia investigation, there is a good chance some of the unauthorized (and potentially felonious) leaks came from inside the bureau Mr. Mueller used to lead, possibly from people he worked with.

Consider this week’s New York Times story revealing Mr. Comey’s memo detailing his dinner with Mr. Trump. The story says Mr. Comey shared “the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates.” Portions of the document were read to a Times reporter by “one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” How long have these associates been calling the press? Did Mr. Comey know?

Mr. Mueller’s past employment and his association with Mr. Comey are not in and of themselves disqualifying. But they do put a significant burden on the special counsel to prove that he will look as closely at his old shops as he does at the new administration. That includes investigating whether Team Obama or the FBI used Russia as an excuse to monitor political opponents inappropriately. It includes tracking down those who endanger national security with leaks.

As a longtime lawman, Mr. Mueller should want the answers to those questions. Public trust in the FBI and Justice Department is plummeting, and Mr. Mueller could crown decades of public service by helping to restore it. But that will take a great deal of objectivity indeed.

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If you think that some of what gets published in social sciences research sounds likes gobbledygook, you'd be correct. Consider this recent hoax that got published.
The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” written by Jamie Lindsay and Peter Boyle is a peer-reviewed paper published by the online journal Cogent Social Science on 19th May, 2017. It is a rambling essay, filled with gender studies jargon, which took issue with the implications for trans and gender-queer individuals in regarding the penis as a male sexual organ and advocated understanding it “conceptually” as a social construct. It went on to relate this ill-defined “conceptual penis” to aggressive and abusive attitudes which it related to “toxic masculinity” and ultimately blamed it for climate change. Later that day, published a piece by the authors who revealed themselves to be the mathematician, James Lindsay, and the philosopher, Peter Boghossian and the paper to be a Sokal-style hoax. Their intention, they said, was to highlight two problems; the low standards of pay-to-publish journals and the meaningless nonsense that can be accepted by the social sciences in general and gender studies in particular, providing it upholds fashionable postmodern ideas of gender.

“The Conceptual Penis” included such gems as describing the authors’ “particular fascination with penises and the ways in which penises are socially problematic,” referring to “pre-post-patriarchal society,” claiming to derive “important social truths” from Twitter hashtags, asserting the act of “man-spreading” to be “akin to raping the empty space” and describing climate change as “an example of hyper-patriarchal society metaphorically man-spreading into the global ecosystem.” The sheer ludicrousness of such utterances which go on for thousands of words should have debarred the paper from being taken seriously by any academic outlet. In addition to this, a quick check of the references would have led a conscientious editor to discover fake papers and even the postmodern generator among them! Unfortunately, it was taken entirely seriously and rated “outstanding” by peer-review. This has produced much criticism of Cogent Social Science and also of the state of discourse within gender studies.
Some have risen up to attack the hoax and claim that it is meaningless. The authors, Lindsay and Bohossian, claim that they wished to test whether or not using the ideological bias of many people in social sciences would lead editors to overlook the meaninglessness of their test article.
“We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, we sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship. Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.”
It is funny how those on the left who are all #Science don't want to admit that one of the academic fields that they supposedly support, gender studies, could fall for a bogus story exposing how empty their pretended claim to science is. In this article on the newest hoax, Helen Pluckrose reminds us of the original hoax published by NYU mathematical physicist Alan Sokal in 1994 when he submitted a satiric hoax article that was published in the cultural studies journal Social Text. His phony article "Transgressing the Boundaries: TOwards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" purported to demonstrate that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. The article was filled with jargon and babble and plain errors in physics, but still got published and accepted until Sokal revealed that the article was a hoax. Later Sokal and Jean Bricmont wrote Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science to expose the flabby thinking of postmodernists and the way they manipulate science to support their own beliefs. Their prediction back in 1999 on the effect of postmodernism on academic research has really come true.
"At a time when superstitions, obscurantism and nationalist and religious fanaticism are spreading in many parts of the world – including the ‘developed’ West – it is irresponsible, to say the least, to treat with such casualness what has historically been the principal defense against these follies, namely a rational vision of the world… [F]or all those of us who identify with the political left, postmodernism has specific negative consequences. First of all, the extreme focus on language and the elitism linked to the use of a pretentious jargon contribute to enclosing intellectuals in sterile debates and to isolating them from social movements taking place outside their ivory tower… Second, the persistence of confused ideas and obscure discourses in some parts of the left tends to discredit the entire left; and the right does not pass up the opportunity to exploit this connection demagogically.”
The success of the "conceptual penis" hoax demonstrates how accurate they were in their predictions.