Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cruising the Web

As I was, Jim Geraghty is struck by how absolutely stupid Donald Trump Jr. appears to have been.
Could just anybody get in the door and get a sit-down meeting at the height of the campaign just by promising they knew damaging information about the Clintons? I mean, didn’t we all know some (already-disclosed) damaging information about the Clintons?

....At any point did anyone ask, “Hey, why would a publicist and former British tabloid reporter have access to Russian government information?” Most of the media world is jumping up and down, excited that this is the long-desired evidence of collusion that they’ve sought. I find the bigger, more troubling question to be the performance of Donald Trump Jr.’s BS detector.
I understand that any campaign wants damaging information about their opponent. But they don't necessarily think they'll receive honest oppo from such a farcical pair and they should know better than sending the top guys in the campaign in to meet with a Russian lawyer,especially after receiving an email that, as Junior released yesterday refers to the "Crown prosecuotor of Russia" having information that "is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump" to which he replied "love it." That's just monumentally stupid. But I don't know that anyone has ever claimed that Junior is anything other than a not-extremely bright trust-fund baby.

I'm not sure what anyone thought was meant by the term "crown prosecutor." I would bet that no one has held such a title since 1917. And since this woman turned out to be some lawyer and not a prosecutor, it's even more of a misnomer. But we're not talking about a group of foreign policy experts here.

And Josh Barro raises an intriguing point.

John Hinderaker does point
out that, whatever was said in that email to Trump, Jr., it does seem that either Rob Goldstone, who wrote the email, or the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, were lying to the Trump campaign as they didn't have the information that they promised on the Clinton campaign, at least according to Trump, Jr.'s description of the meeting. Whether his description is accurate remains to be seen given how his descriptions of why he held this meeting have changed several times over the past few days.

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I don't know if top Trump campaign officials taking a meeting when they were promised information on Clinton that would come from the Russian government technically fits the definition of collusion, but it sure is sleazy and distasteful. Although Randall Eliason writes in the Washington Post argues that it could be evidence of conspiracy. However, it is not as if the Democrats come with pure hands when it comes to accepting foreign help to win a campaign. Does anyone remember the 1996 Clinton campaign and the involvement of the Chinese? Remember this story.
A Justice Department investigation into improper political fund-raising activities has uncovered evidence that representatives of the People's Republic of China sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential campaign, officials familiar with the inquiry said.

Sensitive intelligence information shows that the Chinese Embassy on Connecticut Avenue NW here was used for planning contributions to the DNC, the sources said. Some information was obtained through electronic eavesdropping conducted by federal agencies.
Of course, the Clinton campaign leaders weren't dumb enough to take meetings with any representatives of the Chinese government. It took the Trump campaign to be that obliviously dumb.

Liz Shield of PJ Media reminds us that the 2012 Obama campaign had made it easy for foreigners to contribute to their campaign in contravention of the law.

And the Trump White House is reminding us that the DNC worked with officials at the Ukraine embassy to put forth damaging information about the Trump campaign. Here is the story from Politico in January.
Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.

A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation and advancing the narrative that Trump’s campaign was deeply connected to Ukraine’s foe to the east, Russia. But they were far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails.
Well, at least Ukraine's interference had the benefit of being true rather than whatever mumbo jumbo being fed to Junior at that meeting.

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Meanwhile the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is looking into ways that the Russians have been funneling millions of dollars to environmental non-profits to help them organize against shale gas in order to "maintain dependence on imported Russian gas."

Leaving aside the specific question of which vehicles Putin’s government uses to conduct influence campaigns, the two Texas Republicans aren’t the only ones who have made the more general accusation that Russia has been funding green front groups to disrupt energy supplies that would compete with Russian oil and gas. If a document posted last year on WikiLeaks is to be believed, Clinton campaign staff summarized in an email attachment Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the subject during a private speech:
Clinton Talked About “Phony Environmental Groups” Funded By The Russians To Stand Against Pipelines And Fracking. “We were up against Russia pushing oligarchs and others to buy media. We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you, and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia.” [Remarks at tinePublic, 6/18/14]
Reading further into the speech summaries in the WikiLeaks document, this column is struck by how much more sensible Mrs. Clinton’s private remarks were compared to her public positions:
Clinton Discussed Promoting Oil Pipelines and Fracking In Eastern Europe. “So how far this aggressiveness goes I think is really up to us. I would like to see us accelerating the development of pipelines from Azerbaijan up into Europe. I would like to see us looking for ways to accelerate the internal domestic production. Poland recently signed a big contract to explore hydraulic fracturing to see what it could produce. Apparently, there is thought to be some good reserves there. And just really go at this in a self interested, smart way. The Russians can only intimidate you if you are dependent upon them.” [International Leaders’ Series, Palais des Congrès de MontrĂ©al, 3/18/14]
Hillary Clinton obviously knows the terrain and perhaps Mr. Mnuchin (whose department holds expertise in tracking international financial flows) should start his inquiry by interviewing the former secretary of State. He might also gain some insights into Russia’s strategy to handicap competing sources of fossil fuels by talking to former Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta.

Mr. Podesta has been back in the news lately after President Trump oddly tweeted from Germany to report that “everyone” at the G20 was talking about the former Clinton and Obama aide’s response to last year’s theft and disclosure of Democrats’ emails.

More relevant to the issue of Russian efforts to undermine U.S. oil and gas, Mr. Podesta served on the board of a solar energy start-up where he invested alongside a fund backed by the Russian government. Last year a Clinton campaign spokesman said that when Mr. Podesta returned to the White House in 2014, he “transferred the entirety of his holdings” in the solar company “to his adult children.”
Let's remember that there are many, many ways that the RUssians have attempted to interfere and influence both American politics and that of other nations. There is a lot to be outraged about and let's not limit ourselves to outrage about the Junior Trump's inept attempts to find oppo research on the Clintons when there are other outrages to be exposed. I guess the Democrats are just not as outraged about Russian influence among anti-fracking and other non-profit environmental groups as they are when they can cast shade at the Trumps.

Jonah Goldberg explains
why he just doesn't like writing about the Russian investigations. Unlike Trump and Democratic partisans, he's not willing to believe that it is more or less likely that the Trump campaign or Trump himself were or weren't looking to work with the Russians in an inappropriate matter.
But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t be surprised by almost any finding by Robert Mueller. If he found no truly damning evidence of collusion, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. Nor would I be shocked if he found evidence of collusion. Sure, if he unearthed a videotape of Trump and Putin plotting their strategy over shvitz, I’d find that shocking. But you know what I mean.

And this is why I marvel at the ability of some people to defend the White House every single day on this story. If there is one thing we’ve learned from this president, it’s that going too far out on a limb brings out the saw. Poor Steve Mnuchin. He went out on Sunday and heaped praise on this joint US-Russia Cyber Fox Force Five idea that the president blurted out on Twitter. Within a few hours, Trump left Mnuchin out to dry. It happens again and again.

It’s the same thing with this Donald Trump Jr. story.

There were no meetings with Russians. Well there was that meeting about adoption with that Russian lawyer (attended by the campaign manager). Well, it was a meeting about opposition research that turned into a meeting about adoption, but I had no idea the Russian government was involved. Then the NYT reports last night about an email saying the meeting was pitched as part of a Russian-government operation. Then this morning the Russian lawyer says it was the Trump team that was desperate for Clinton dirt.

Now this story may end up being wrong, because shady Russian lawyers lie and the press screws stuff up a lot on this kind of thing too. It may be, as one often hears, that this is all an effort by Jared Kushner to screw his brother-in-law and distract the press from his woes. Or maybe it’s all a terrible dream.

But that’s my larger point. Who the hell knows?

What I just don’t understand is how conservatives can mock, scoff at, and ridicule the idea there might be some legs to this story when Donald Trump does everything he can to make it look like there might be a there there. He fired the FBI director. He told the Russian ambassador he did it to thwart the Russia investigation. He told Lester Holt the same thing. Donald Trump is clearly obsessed with the Russia story and with forging a bromance with Vladimir Putin. Both his son and his son-in-law have ties to Russia and keep having to revise their denials, making anyone who believed them in the first place look foolish.

Why not just wait and see?
If these accusations had been made about other Republicans such as Reagan, either of the Bushes, Bob Dole, John McCain, or Mitt Romney, would any but the most rabid partisan Democrats believe it? But who really has any faith that Trump and his associates wouldn't do something extremely dumb and self-destructive? I mean, Trump's tweets demonstrate that he's able and quite willing to do so almost every single day. And his supporters are willing to cheer and defend him when he does. On the other hand, the Russians were going to interfere in the election without the approbation of the Trump people. That is what they do. They probably had no expectation that Trump would actually win so they didn't need to make deals with him ahead of time. And his rhetoric throughout the campaign gave them reason to believe that he would be easier to deal with on issues like sanctions than Clinton would have been. Why would they need to send some obscure lawyer to meet with Trump Jr. to hand off charges against the Clintons when they were perfectly capable of releasing such information any time they wanted?

Jay Nordlinger adds in his thoughts about how Republicans should react to this and other stories.
(3) Being a conservative does not mean being a defender of a Republican administration, come what may. Conscience ought to come before tribe.

“The conscience of a conservative” — could work as the title of a book.

(4) I hope Robert Mueller has time to complete his work — to do it soberly, responsibly, and thoroughly. A lot of people are looking to him. A lot of people are curious about the question, What exactly happened, Russia-wise, in the 2016 campaign?

(5) It’s true, a lot of people don’t care. They tend to be Republicans. And those who do care tend to be Democrats. This is typical politics.

If the Kremlin had attempted to aid Hillary, and Hillary had been elected, R’s would be red-hot to find out everything that happened — every jot and tittle. And D’s would say “hoax,” “witch hunt,” “move on,” etc.

(6) I don’t remember “hoax,” but, in the ’90s, I heard a lot of “witch hunt” and “move on.” Every day. In fact, Democrats founded an organization called “Move On”! What is new under the sun?

....(11) I myself doubt that much happened between the Kremlin and Team Trump in 2016. What is damning, I think, is Trump’s public statements about Putin and the Kremlin: about the political killings and so on.

(12) It’s an ever-useful exercise to ask, “What would I be saying if the shoe were on the other foot? If the shoe were on the other party’s foot?”

The other day, Trump had his elder daughter, Ivanka, sit in for him at an international summit. Warm his chair, so to speak. D’s thought this was gross; R’s either defended it or shrugged.

What if Hillary had been elected and then had Chelsea sit in? What would D’s say, what would R’s say? You can hear them — hear us — can’t you?

Often, there is no principle involved: just tribes. Red shirts and blue shirts or what have you.

(13) Everyone gripes about the press, including me. I have made a virtual career out of it. I have especially griped about the New York Times, for they are the Big Kahuna. Once, I said to Rob Long, “I’m afraid my column is nothing but ‘Jay Nordlinger reads the New York Times and then fumes.’” Rob, nicely, answered, “What’s wrong with that?”

Griping aside, a free press is a wondrous thing, and relatively rare in the world. It is indispensable to a democracy.

Last week, Putin was sitting with Trump and pointed at some reporters. “Are these the ones who hurt your feelings?” he asked. The two leaders had a good chuckle over that.

In Russia, you don’t hurt Putin’s feelings and last for long. There is a long roll of dead who can testify to that, or would.
No, in Putin's Russia, such journalists often find themselves arrested or murdered. Those screaming that "Democracy dies in darkness" should ponder the contrast between Putin's actions and Trump's tweets. Overall, Nordlinger has some very good advice - perhaps we might consider it a Golden Rule of partisanship. Ask yourself how you would react if the other party did something and then react accordingly, even if it is someone ostensibly from your own team. Too often it seemed that liberals didn't apply that rule when it was the Obama administration; it's distressing to see so many conservatives not applying it to the Trump administration and campaign.

Guy Benson has a rant in a similar vein
in answer to those criticizing him for reporting the Trump Junior story and analyzing it as very damaging. He calls out conservatives who are adopting a new standard whereby "if it's not a literal crime, it's NBD." He challenges conservatives to say if they would accept such an argument from Clinton about Benghazi or Lois Lerner and the IRS. He concludes,
He coins a phrase for conservatives who don't want to hear criticism of Trump as seeking "safe-space snowflake-ism." I like that.

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The WSJ summarizes
what the Democrats have been doing in the Senate to block Trump's nominations. These Senate rules are amazingly idiotic.
President Trump got an inexcusably slow start making nominations, but in the past few weeks he’s been catching up to his predecessors. According to the Partnership for Public Service, as of June 28 Mr. Trump had nominated 178 appointees but the Senate had confirmed only 46. Barack Obama had 183 nominees confirmed by that date in his first term, and George W. Bush 130....

Democratic obstruction against nominees is nearly total, most notably including a demand for cloture filings for every nominee—no matter how minor the position. This means a two-day waiting period and then another 30 hours of debate. The 30-hour rule means Mr. Trump might not be able to fill all of those 400 positions in four years. The cloture rule also allows the minority to halt other business during the 30-hour debate period, which helps slow the GOP policy and oversight agenda.

Democrats have also refused to return a single “blue slip” to the Judiciary Committee, which has the effect of blocking consideration of judicial nominees from their home states. Senators like Minnesota’s Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar are holding hostage the eminently qualified Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for no reason other than politics.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s troops are even invoking an obscure rule that prohibits committees from doing business more than two hours after the Senate opens for the day. Republicans have had to cancel briefings on national security and Russia electoral interference, as well as scrap a markup of two human-trafficking bills.
Since the Democrats are carrying these rules to the extreme, it's time to get rid of them. And the Republicans should do this on their own just as the Democrats got rid of the filibuster rule on judicial nominations. The WSJ recommends,
Frustrated Republicans may soon begin listening to Oklahoma Senator Jim Lankford, who wants the majority to impose the eight-hour rule unilaterally. Most debate about nominees occurs during vetting and in committees. Eight hours on the floor is enough for all but the most controversial nominees, and the Senate could then get back to other business.

As for the blue-slip tradition, it was designed to facilitate advice and consent by allowing Senators to use their home-state knowledge about local judges to better inform the White House. But it is a courtesy, not a rule, and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley can ignore Senators who are using their blue slips as ideological vetoes of qualified candidates.

Mr. Trump has nominated first-rate judges, and Mr. Grassley is justified in suspending blue-slip privileges on a case-by-case basis. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also been starting the Senate at different times of the day to get around the Democratic sabotage of committee work. But note Mr. Schumer’s childishness in forcing a game of Senate hide-and-seek.

Mr. McConnell will be wary of Mr. Lankford’s advice to change a Senate rule in the middle of the term, but the Majority Leader rightly did so when Democrats staged a historic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Democrats aren’t using cloture to raise the level of debate or highlight unqualified nominees. They are using it—and have said as much—to sabotage a Presidency. That isn’t what the Founders intended, and Republicans have every right to stop this abuse of process to let the President form a government.

Well, this sounds like the definitive kibosh on that whole Amelia Earhart being captured by the Japanese story. It seems that the photo at the foundation of the theory was from at least 1935 and Earhart disappeared in 1937.
But serious doubts now surround the film’s premise after a Tokyo-based blogger unearthed the same photograph in the archives of the National Diet Library, Japan’s national library.

The image was part of a Japanese-language travelogue about the South Seas that was published almost two years before Earhart disappeared. Page 113 states the book was published in Japanese-held Palau on 10 October 1935.

The caption beneath the image makes no mention of the identities of the people in the photograph. It describes maritime activity at the harbour on Jabor in the Jaluit atoll – the headquarters for Japan’s administration of the Marshall Islands between the first world war and its defeat in the second world war.

The caption notes that monthly races between schooners belonging to local tribal leaders and other vessels turned the port into a “bustling spectacle”.

Kota Yamano, a military history blogger who unearthed the Japanese photograph, said it took him just 30 minutes to effectively debunk the documentary’s central claim....

Yamano ran an online search using the keyword “Jaluit atoll” and a decade-long timeframe starting in 1930.

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” he said. “I was really happy when I saw it. I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”
Ah, a Google search. What researcher would think of that?