Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cruising the Web

Thank you for the good-luck wishes for my quiz bowl team. We had a lot of fun, but it was an exhausting weekend. The varsity team ended up tied for 41st out of pool of 304 teams which was pretty good considering how many really excellent teams there are out there. I know how hard my team works studying and learning obscure facts from all fields and all the practices we go through. I just can't imagine how hard the teams that are so much stronger must work all year to attain the abilities they have.

Here is a picture of my team competing early on the first day. They're the ones on the left. They ended up winning this match 450 to 85 so it's a happy memory.

Congratulations to Hunter College High School which won the entire tournament for the second year in the row. I can take some totally undeserved pride in their victory because their coach is a former student from our high school who was on the team the first two years I started at the school and helping to coach the team. So I regard him as the founding member of my coaching tree. Given that our team wasn't going to win, I'm as pleased as punch that his team is so excellent and I give Chris a lot more credit than he would give himself.

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Sigh, it was so nice to take a break from the world's news for a few days except for a few glimpses of the news projected in the lobby as we rushed from one match to another. There just isn't that much to make anyone happy. Memorial Day is such a solemn day and it should be a day when the nations focuses on those who have sacrificed so much for our country. It is just dreary to have the focus on political accusations.

I can't figure out this whole Jared Kushner-Russia story. What was he thinking? I can understand wanting to establish some back-channel communication with other countries. Presidents have done that a lot in history. But why would he consider that Russia was such a good friend that it was acceptable to use their secret communications to bypass American intelligence? I know that they don't trust, and perhaps with good reason, American intelligence, but why consider Russia an honest partner? Andrew McCarthy summarizes the idiocy of that position as well as the poor judgment of putting his inexperienced son-in-law in charge of sensitive negotiations.
The Putin regime is hostile to the United States. Donald Trump’s infatuation with forging an alliance with Russia (much like his infatuation with crafting a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians whose objective is to destroy Israel) has always struck me as reckless, occasionally repugnant, and always hopelessly naïve. Similarly naïve, and obnoxious to the American tradition of resisting royalty, is President Trump’s reliance in major matters of policy on his son-in-law and daughter, two young people who have little if any experience in many of their swelling areas of responsibility.

Put another way, would Jared Kushner be a key senior policy adviser to any president of the United States other than his father-in-law?
While Trump admirers will jump to his defense and throw around the usual attacks on anonymous leaks and the deepstate and reminders of how Obama went behind the Bush administration's backs in 2008 to make contacts with Iran and encourage them to reject any deal Bush would offer them on nuclear weapons, that is not the point. Ask yourselves, what would your reaction be if Hillary's son-in-law, failed hedge-fund manager Marc Mezvinsky who has as little foreign policy experience as Jared Kushner, was reported to have been offering Russia, Iran, China, or any other country to establish such back-channel communication in order to evade American intelligence. The outrage on the right would have been explosive. So it shouldn't be different in Jared's case. Russia is not our friend. There was a time when Republicans realized that. It's strange how the positions of the parties have switched now that it seems politically expedient to do so. True ideological positions shouldn't flip just because the leader of the party has a different position.

McCarthy does find one silver lining for the Trump people in this whole mishegas.
Let’s table that momentarily, though, because there are positives for Trump in the details of this story.

Most notably, the Kushner–Kislyak meeting occurred in December 2016, weeks after the election. If there had been a close working relationship between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime — a working relationship that purportedly amounted to collusion in Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome of the election — then why would it have been necessary to set up a back channel in December? The secret lines of communication would already have been up and running for months. And they would certainly have been known to Kushner, Trump’s closest adviser; apparently, despite his sparse policy résumé, the “young princeling,” as West Wing rivals have taken to describing him, has been given every portfolio, from the holy grail of Middle East peace to the reinvention of the sprawling, $4.1 trillion per annum U.S. government.

Moreover, although the Trump Tower meeting has long been known to the FBI, the collusion-obsessed media concede that Kushner is not the “target” or “subject” of an investigation. To say that this concession is grudging does not do justice to the despicable coverage, which, to repeat, is based on anonymous leaking of classified information. (If you’re keeping score, that’s an actual crime, unlike anything Kushner appears to have done.) The media’s suggestion is that while Kushner is not currently in handcuffs, it is probably just a matter of time.

To the contrary, as we at National Review have been trying to get across for weeks: The main part of the “collusion with Russia” investigation is a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. As I’ve explained in another context, “target” and “subject” are terms of art in criminal investigations, referring to persons whose actions are being probed by a grand jury with an eye toward, respectively, the high likelihood or strong possibility of indictment. These terms are inapposite to a counterintelligence investigation. The point of a counterintelligence probe is not to build a criminal case but to discern and counter the intentions and actions of a foreign power, to the extent they threaten American interests. The only thing close to a “subject” in a counterintelligence investigation involving Russia would be . . . Russia.
And even if there were any contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, it wouldn't necessarily be criminal.
Even if there were such contacts, that would not mean the campaign surrogates had done anything wrong or violated any laws. It is not a crime to have meetings with Russians, to do business with Russians, or even to discuss an ongoing American election campaign with Russians. There is a long history of Democrats doing all those things. Even if Trump-campaign officials had known about and encouraged Russian interference with the U.S. election (a proposition for which there is currently no publicly known evidence), that would not be a crime unless some action the Russians were taking was illegal and the campaign officials did something hands-on to aid and abet it.
So, not criminal, but just stupid and inappropriate and not the behavior one wants in one's president and his intimates. Of course, we still don't know if the Washington Post story is true. If the story comes from a report that Kislyak sent back to Russia on a channel that he knows is being monitored, we shouldn't put all our faith in the leaked report.
Whether or not the worst aspects of the Post’s account are true, it appears that this is exactly what the Kremlin has done. Kushner put himself in position to let Kislyak embarrass him. Kushner made himself vulnerable to media-Democrat speculation that he wanted secret dealings with Russia because Trump was was having shady dealings with Russia.

Forget election collusion and potential criminality. These suggestions, no matter how tirelessly made, appear unsupported by any concrete evidence. Nevertheless, the Kushner–Kislyak meeting, at best, is amateur hour. Given the trouble that Russia can make (and has made) for the United States, it is yet more cause for bewilderment over Trump’s strange blandishments toward the Putin regime.

Yes, there are clearly Obama sieves in the administrative state who delight in politically wounding the Trump administration. There is also no shortage of patriots in our intelligence agencies who know that Russia is a threat and wonder what on earth the Trump brain trust is thinking.

Newsweek passes on a report from an Israeli TV broadcaster that President Trump was very angry at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
President Trump reportedly lashed out at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in their meeting in the West Bank city of Bethlehem last Tuesday.

“You tricked me in D.C.! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement [against Israel],” he allegedly said to Abbas, according to Israel’s Channel 2 broadcaster, which cited a U.S. official present at the meeting. It said the Palestinian delegation were shocked by the outburst.
Really? Did Trump believe that the Palestinians were committed to peace? That would be blindly naive.

Trump returned to tweeting after his foreign policy trip. He tweeted out that he thinks "that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media." Trump can't have it both ways saying that such leaks are #FakeNews, but also ask the FBI to investigate these leaks.

Senator Graham is right, why didn't James Comey tell Congress that he decided to make his extraordinary public statement about Hillary's server based on a Russian email that he knew was fake?
"I want to get back to the idea that the FBI director's decision to jump into the election and say that Hillary Clinton did not commit a crime but she was pretty much incompetent was based on a fake email from Russia. He never told anybody in Congress, which is stunning," Graham, R-S.C., said on "State of the Union," repeatedly redirecting Bash's unrelated questions back to the report.

"And at the end of the day, if the Russians are this sophisticated, we need more sanctions yesterday against the Russians. Or if, in fact, this is a true email, I want to see the email," Graham added.

Graham said the FBI intervened in July 2016 because Comey believed the Justice Department had been compromised after hearing about a fake email the Russians had created. The email appeared to be between two top Democratic officials referring to an email between a Clinton campaign aide and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
If this email was a phony, why should we have such faith in something overheard by Kislyak to the Russian government when he most probably knew that it would be intercepted?

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Jonathan Haidt writes up the story of what happened to Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. It's an astounding story. The school has been holding an annual "day of absence" during which students and staff who are minorities are encouraged to stay away from campus and participate in discussions about racism. This year, they decided to have people of color stay on campus and ask white people, including students and faculty, to stay away. White faculty members were asked by Rashida Love, the Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services not to teach their classes. Professor Weinstein questioned the whole idea and wrote Ms. Love that he intended to teach his class. This is what happened in response.
On Tuesday, a group of Evergreen students disrupted a class he was teaching, surrounded him, cursed at him, screamed at him, and called for him to resign or be fired. Campus police have told Weinstein that for his own physical safety, he should stay off campus for a few days. He held his Thursday class in an off-campus park.
Haidt has a video of the confrontations. Think of this. These crowds are haranguing a teacher for daring to show up and teach his class because he is not the right color. Haidt compares this to the story from a couple of years ago about students at Yale screaming obscenities at a professor because his wife had dared question the university's guidelines on Halloween costumes as well as some other similar stories. Haidt concludes,
There are several lessons that American professors can draw from these three events:
1) Never object to a diversity policy publicly. It is no longer permitted. You may voice concerns in a private conversation, but if you do it in a public way, you are inviting a visit from a mob or punishment from an administrator.
2) Do not assume that being politically progressive will protect you (as Weinstein and the Christakises found out). Whatever your politics, you are eventually going to say or do something that will be interpreted incorrectly and ungenerously. Your intentions don’t matter (as Dean Spellman found out at CMC.) This is especially true if your university offers students training in the detection of microaggressions.
3) If a mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative (as the presidents at Yale and Evergreen have done, although the presidents at Middlebury and Claremont McKenna did not).
4) If a mob comes for you, the great majority of its members will be non-violent. However, given the new standard operating procedure (which I described in a recent Chronicle article entitled “Intimidation is the New Normal”) you must assume that one or more of its members is willing to use violence against you, and you can assume that many members of the mob believe that violence against you is morally justifiable.
As political passions and political polarization continue to rise, Intimidation and physical violence seem to be becoming more common as a part of our political life. Off campus, such tactics are widely used by extremists on the right, as well as the left. And not just by extremists — by a new member of Congress too. I generally oppose zero-tolerance policies, but if we are to have one, it should be for violence and intimidation on campus. Many faculty and students report being afraid to speak up openly and honestly on many issues, even in seminar classes. What will presidents and administrators do about it? What will alumni and trustees do to put pressure on presidents and administrators to do something about it? When will the faculty begin to stand up en masse?

And now that this video of the students swearing at the college president and other administrators and saying things like "F***you, and f*** the police" and asserting that “whiteness is the most violent f*****’ system to ever breathe!” has gone viral, the students are outraged and want the state's attorney general to investigate who took the video and posted it.
The students then outline just how they expect the university to proceed to find the guilty culprits. Claiming to have been in touch with “the Attorney General’s office,” the students suggest that the university “commit to launching an extensive forensic investigation” to discover just who “stole” the video, and, if a suspect is found, to ask that criminal charges be brought against the suspect “in consultation with the Attorney General.”
If you read these stories, would you want to send your child to Evergreen?

Why would Goldman Sachs be bailing out the Venezuelan government?
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. bought about $2.8 billion in Venezuelan bonds that had been held by the oil-rich country’s central bank, a lifeline to President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government as it scrambles to raise funds in the midst of widening civil unrest.

The New York-based bank’s asset management division last week paid 31 cents on the dollar, or about $865 million, for bonds issued by state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA in 2014, which mature in 2022, according to five people familiar with the transaction. The price represents a 31% discount on the trading Venezuelan securities maturing the same year....

Goldman didn’t negotiate the transaction with the government but instead bought the bonds through an unnamed broker, three of the people familiar with sale said.

But detractors said participating in any financial deals would give much-needed funding to the Maduro administration, which polls show has the support of only one in five Venezuelans. The government has shelved elections and is now organizing an overhaul of the constitution, which opposition leaders say will end the few constitutional protections Mr. Maduro’s political adversaries have.

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Gosh, there are a lot ridiculous hoaxes on social media concerning Trump. I hadn't heard of most of these, but Jim Geraghty has a list of some of the silliest stuff that some people are happily retweeting and forwarding on because they dislike Trump so much that they'll believe any allegation about him.
Trump has plenty of serious flaws as president. But he’s only helped when liberals who are convinced they’re crafting a hilarious hoax end up creating what becomes “fake news” – and the legitimate criticism of his actual actions get mixed in with tall tales and urban legends.

And if Trump is so self-evidently awful, why do so many of his opponents feel the need to make up hoax stories about him?

There is a whole Twitter thread, #MattisFacts about Defense Secretary General James Mattis, modeled after the similar memes about Chuck Norris. Some of them are really quite funny. If you aren't yet familiar why 'Mad Dog' Mattis would inspire such a thread, read these real quotes from the Marine general.