Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cruising the Web

Donald Trump continues his practice of leadership by browbeating. Undermining Jeff Sessions continues to be his main focus as if there were nothing else going on for the president of the United States to be dealing with. And when he's not trashing Sessions for recusing himself and not going after Hillary Clinton, he's threatening HHS Secretary Tom Price if the GOP doesn't repeal Obamacare. Apparently, Trump can't exercise the "Art of the Deal" with Congress so he wants to blame Price as if it's Price's fault that different members of the GOP have varying views on health care. Trump seems surprised by all the difficulties he's facing as president. Does he have any idea of how his treatment of those who work with him will make it even more difficult to find competent people who are willing to come work for him? I was never all that thrilled with the choice of Sessions as Attorney General, but Trump shouldn't forget that it was Sessions' endorsement of him early in the campaign that helped to give Trump some heft with conservatives, especially on immigration.

Jonah Goldberg notices how silly Trump supporters have been about Sessions.
As I noted in last week’s G-File, there was a time when the case for Trump among many conservatives rested to a significant degree on Sessions’s support for him. Now, the case against Sessions rests entirely on Trump’s lack of support for the attorney general. Sessions, for good or ill, has not changed. The only thing that’s changed is Trump’s “interests.” I put interests in quotes because I think, objectively speaking, it is not in his interest to fire Sessions or force him to quit. But Trump sees it differently.

One of the things I find most remarkable about all this is how the case for Trump always seems to come back to Hillary Clinton, who — I can report — is not the president of the United States or even a candidate.

I constantly hear that I can’t get over the election and the fact that Trump won. Having taken a vigorous personal inventory of my feelings, I can tell you that I don’t believe this to be the case. But it does seem like some people can’t let go of the election. Every night, Sean Hannity beats on the “real scandal” of Hillary Clinton, as if that story has anything to do with the facts of the Trump presidency. If there’s good reason to investigate or prosecute Hillary Clinton, I’m all for it. But even if Clinton had the book thrown at her, it would not affect the investigations into Trump. In reality, they are independent variables. But in the gaseous world of shout shows and Twitter, they are somehow linked. The binary, seesaw logic of the election still holds that if Hillary is down, Trump is up. It’s all so otherworldly.

All the more so because it was Donald Trump who said after he was elected that Hillary had “suffered enough”

....When Trump said this, there was some grumbling among hardcore Trump supporters. For instance, Peter Schweizer said that Trump shouldn’t even be commenting on a potential criminal investigation. But for the most part, the decision was spun as a sign that the president wanted to be a “president for all.” Now the president is insinuating that Sessions needs to go because he’s refused to prosecute Hillary Clinton, even though the president had made it clear he didn’t want her to be prosecuted.

In other words, whether appropriate or not, the attorney general loyally followed the president’s wishes and now Trump’s stated — as opposed to real — reason for why Sessions should go is that he didn’t contravene the president’s stated desire. It’s all obvious nonsense. But that hasn’t stopped some people from pretending that this a serious argument, because for them the election is never over, and the only enduring principle is that Trump must always “win.”
What a surprise - Donald Trump flip-flopping on something he said previously!

Victor Davis Hanson points out that, when Sessions first recused himself, there were many people in the administration who thought that this might serve to quiet down media outrage. Of course, nothing was going to tamp down media outrage, especially with Trump's own words and actions serving to ramp up such outrage. But, as Hanson writes, "Enough Already."
But all that said, Trump is said to value loyalty and competence. And Sessions is the epitome of both. He was a force for immigration enforcement and an advocate of the ignored muscular working classes long before Trump; it was his advocacy of these issues which drew him to Trump’s 2016 populist campaign, and prompted his early and almost solitary support for Trump. He is a good man with the legal and political experience to make the fundamental changes at the Justice Department that returns it to enforcement of existing laws rather than its past errant role under Holder and Lynch of a creator of progressive agendas masquerading as an enforcement agency.

Politically, Trump made his point. Again, any further public criticism of Sessions undermines two of Trump’s strengths, acknowledged even by his enemies: one, that he is loyal to those even under fire who were willing to take a risk and support him when few would; and, two, he has a proven ability to appoint superb professionals who know what they are doing and yet are not part of the deep state (McMaster, Mattis, Pompeo, etc.).

It’s past time to let Sessions do his job and move on.
But Trump can't move on. He has repeatedly demonstrated that, when something is bugging him, he just can't stop himself from tweeting and making little digs on the subject way past the time when he might be achieving anything at all by his tweets and comments.

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The following sermon wasn't given somewhere in the Middle East or even in Europe. It was given by Imam Ammar Shahin at the t Islamic Center of Davis.
Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Oh Allah, show us the black day that you inflict upon them, and the wonders of your ability. Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.

Citing an anti-Semitic verse from the Hadith, Shahin added that “Allah does not change the situation of people until they change their own situation. The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews.’”

Shain then made sure to note that “We don’t say if it is in Palestine or another place,” making clear that Jews will be fought and killed everywhere.
Think of that. This is what is being preached at a public American university. He is a teacher at the university's Islamic Center. They were the ones who posted the video. As Elliot Kaufman reports, there hasn't been much of a response from the university.
Gofman, the student senator, tells me that the response to this incident at UC-Davis has been “muted,” with many people claiming that the Imam was only expressing his “anti-Zionism,” not anti-Semitism. This, I am afraid, is the usual cowardice and the usual apologia one hears when a favored group has wronged a non-favored group.
We have universities tying themselves in knots to find some sort of implied racism or sexism in what professors say that might be taken badly by some students. Here we have an employee of the university preaching hatred and violence against Jews and the response is "muted."

The Hollywood Reporter has the story of ow two Hollywood movies have cut references to Vladimir Putin from their movie. One is Fox's Red Sparrow about a Russian spy played by Jennifer Lawrence who is recruited to be a double agent. It's based on a book by Jason Matthews which features Putin. The movie has been switched from modern-day Russia to 1970s Hungary thus obviating the need to have Putin in the story. Then it was switched back to present day, but they left Putin out of the story.

The other planned movie is about the Russian submarine Kursk, which sunk in the Barents Sea in 2000. The movie, Kursk, is also based on a book, A Time to Die by Robert Moore. The book featured Putin's role in the tragedy and in early versions of the screenplay. Tom Rogan comments on this story to explain why it makes no sense to make a movie about the Kursk without including Putin's role.
For a start, you can't tell the story of the Kursk without Putin. That's because Putin played a central role in the crisis, and not a positive one.

When he was first informed that a Russian submarine had sunk, Putin did nothing. He did not organize the Russian Navy into a coordinated response or demand immediate rescue efforts. Even worse, when foreign governments offered to assist Russia with their specific submarine rescue capabilities, Putin rejected their offers of help. It was not until five days after the sinking that Putin changed his mind. The families of the dead were ignored and rejected.

Amazingly, just a month after the Kursk had sunk, Putin was asked on CNN about the incident. In response, he offered a smirk.

For a leader who claims to be competent and in charge, the Kursk disaster was a stunning failure.

Of course, the ultimate story of the Kursk is about the lives that were lost and the suffering of their families. But to leave Putin out is to tell only two-thirds of the story. The executives who must have researched the tragedy know this. That they nonetheless decided to leave Putin out shows their fear.
The movie studios may well be afraid of depicting Putin in case he decides to retaliate such as North Korea hacked Sony after they released The Interview. On the other hand, think of how interest in a movie would increase these days if it included Putin, especially in an episode that displayed his role in the deaths of all the 118 Russian sailors aboard. Otherwise, I can't see why people would want to go watch a movie when they know how tragically it's going to end.

Here's another story of Putin's villainy that will also not be made into a Hollywood movie. A Russian researcher, Yuri Dmitriev, has spent his life researching Stalin's crimes against his own citizens, particularly an episode in which Stalin had more than 9,500 people executed. But Putin's Russia doesn't like people today remembering Stalin's crimes. That doesn't fit with Putin's efforts to increase Russian nationalism.
In December, police arrested Dmitriev in his home in Petrozavodsk, a city of about 250,000 in Russia’s northwestern republic of Karelia. They charged him with child pornography and endangering a minor, claiming that Dmitriev was taking pornographic photos of his 11-year-old adopted daughter. A third charge of possessing an illegal firearm was added later.

Prosecutors said the police were acting on an anonymous tip that accused the researcher of possessing naked photos of the child.

Dmitriev denies the charges, saying that the photos were innocent and that the firearm charge stemmed from his owning parts of a non-working hunting rifle. Colleagues and human rights organizations say he has been framed with a grotesque charge intended to smear his reputation and associate his work with an unspeakable crime.

“The government is trying to associate sexual crimes with his research in such a way that it would turn people away from looking into the history of Sandarmokh,” said Melissa Hooper of Human Rights First, an international human rights watchdog. “This is a cautionary tale to others, and the warning is: Don’t try to challenge the narrative of Russian strength, and don’t try to smear the Russian name by digging into the negative past.”

Seven decades after the end of World War II, the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin has gone to great lengths to continue the glorification of the Soviet Union’s victory in the war under Stalin’s leadership. In May, the Kremlin issued a protocol to Russian ministries and public organizations to find ways to spread “objective historical and current information about the Russian Federation, including its role in defeating Nazism.”

Putin, a former KGB officer, has described Stalin as an “effective leader.” In a recent lengthy interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone, Putin said the “excessive demonization” of Stalin in the West was “one means of attacking the Soviet Union and Russia.”
Always beware when someone talks about "demonization" of a man responsible from 15 to 30 million deaths of his own countryman. It's unbelievable to me that Stalin is enjoying a resurgence of popularity in Russia. Now the person being demonized is the historian who has devoted his life to finding out about the victims of Stalin's execution squads.

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James Kirchick explains why he just doesn't buy the Democrats' supposed suspicions on Russia. This is a recent position adopted by the Democrats solely for political reasons to attack Trump.
But as much as Democrats may be correct in their diagnosis of Republican debasement, they are wholly lacking in self-awareness as to their own record regarding Russia. This helps explain why conservatives have so much trouble taking liberal outrage about Russia seriously: Most of the people lecturing them for being “Putin’s pawns” spent the better part of the last 8 years blindly supporting a Democratic president, Barack Obama, whose default mode with Moscow was fecklessness. To Republicans, these latter-day Democratic Cold Warriors sound like partisan hysterics, a perception that’s not entirely wrong.
Kirchick points to their outrage over Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a rather suspect Russian lawyer in which they talked about Russian adoption which is related to the Magnitsky Act sanctioning Russian officials for human writes abuses.
Yet for all the newfound righteous indignation in defense of the Magnitsky Act being expressed by former Obama officials and supporters, it wasn’t long ago that they tried to prevent its passage, fearing the measure would hamper their precious “reset” with Moscow. In 2012, as part of this effort, the Obama administration lobbied for repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Cold War-era law tying enhanced trade relations with Russia to its human rights record. Some voices on Capitol Hill proposed replacing Jackson-Vanik with Magnitsky, a move the administration vociferously opposed. Shortly after his appointment as ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul (today one of the most widely-cited critics on the subject of Trump and Russia) publicly stated that the Magnitsky Act would be “redundant” and that the administration specifically disagreed with its naming and shaming Russian human rights abusers as well as its imposition of financial sanctions. McFaul even invoked the beleaguered Russian opposition, which he said agreed with the administration’s position.

This was a mischaracterization of Russian civil society, the most prominent leaders of which only supported repeal of Jackson-Vanik on the express condition it be superseded by the Magnitsky Act....

Nevertheless, the Obama administration not only persisted in opposing Magnitsky, but continued to claim that it had the support of the Russian opposition in this endeavor. “Leaders of Russia's political opposition,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, “have called on the U.S. to terminate Jackson-Vanik, despite their concerns about human rights and the Magnitsky case.” Despite administration protestations, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act and Obama reluctantly signed it into law. Reflecting on the legislative battle two years later, Bill Browder, the London-based investor for whom Magnitsky worked and the driving force behind the bill, told Foreign Policy, “The administration, starting with Hillary Clinton and then John Kerry, did everything they could do to stop the Magnitsky Act.”

Today’s liberal Russia hawks would have us believe that they’ve always been clear-sighted about Kremlin perfidy and mischief. They’re displaying amnesia not just over a single law but the entire foreign policy record of the Obama administration. From the reset, which it announced in early 2009 just months after Russia invaded Georgia, to its removal of missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland later that year, to its ignoring Russia’s violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (while simultaneously negotiating New START) and its ceding the ground in Syria to Russian military intervention, the Obama administration’s Russia policy was one, protracted, 8-year-long concession to Moscow. Throughout his two terms in office, Obama played down the threat Russia posed to America’s allies, interests and values, and ridiculed those who warned otherwise.
Obama was continually weak with regards to Russia. Working for the supposed "reset" with Russia as well as getting Russia's support for the Iran deal were the main focus of Obama's relations to Russia.
For now, the newfangled Democratic hawkishness on Russia seems motivated almost entirely, if not solely, by anger over the (erroneous) belief that Vladimir Putin cost Hillary Clinton the election – not over the Kremlin’s aggression toward its neighbors, its intervention on behalf of Assad in Syria, its cheating on the INF Treaty, or countless other malfeasances. Most Democrats were willing to let Russia get away with these things when President Obama was telling the world that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” are obsolete, or that Russia was a mere “regional power” whose involvement in Syria would lead to another Afghanistan, or when he was trying to win Russian help for his signal foreign policy achievement, the Iran nuclear deal. If the Democrats’ newfound antagonism toward the Kremlin extended beyond mere partisanship, they would have protested most of Obama’s foreign policy, which acceded to Russian prerogatives at nearly every turn.

Ah, Bill de Blasio, man of the people.
Mayor Bill de Blasio ventured into the city’s decrepit subway system Sunday — but didn’t have to face the foul-smelling and often crazy vagrants whom ordinary New Yorkers are forced to contend with every day.

That’s because police were ordered to roust all the homeless people from two stations ahead of the mayor’s four-stop press event as he rode from his Park Slope gym to his new re-election headquarters in downtown Brooklyn, law enforcement sources told The Post.

The rank and file had until 11 a.m. to prepare the Fourth Avenue/Ninth Street and Jay Street/MetroTech F train stations for the mayor’s brief, underground publicity stunt, sources said.

One source characterized the directive — contained in an email from the NYPD’s Transit Bureau — as instructing cops to “make sure nobody’s hanging out” so that the stations “looked nice.”

Another source said the mayor’s office notified police brass of his schedule ahead of time “with the expectation that the subway stations would be free and clear of homeless people.”

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I'm heading out today for a workshop on Religious Freedom in America from the Founding to the present. I've really been looking forward to this as, despite not being a religious person myself, I've always been interested in this subject and sensitive to the various issues that have arisen in interpreting both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.