Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cruising the Web

Well, I guess a do-over for Trump to condemn the white supremacists whose march in Charlottesville led to the shocking events this weekend, but we all know that his first inclination was to not explicitly call those marchers out. A late statement is slightly better than no statement, but the delay is telling. Jay Nordlinger puts forth a reasonable theory why Trump can harshly criticize such people as Megyn Kelly and John McCain or Mitch McConnell, but refuses to criticize Putin or delayed calling out the alt-right. Remember how long it took him to disavow David Duke during the campaign? Nordlinger posits that Trump saves his vitriol for those who criticize him.
Trump is by no means shy. If he wants to denounce you, he will. Think of the people he has lashed out at in recent times. The mayor of London; a senator from Connecticut; his own attorney general …

And when he lashes out, he is not reliably truthful....

Trump’s spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said, “This is a president who fights fire with fire.” On Fox, her father, Mike Huckabee, said that Trump had “made it clear”: If you hit him, he will “hit you back ten times harder.”

He does not hit Putin and he does not hit white nationalists. They notice, too. The white nationalists noticed it yesterday and were properly, publicly grateful.

Yesterday was a time for character in the office of the presidency. And this is my problem with the “scorecard” approach to Trump — the approach that many conservatives take to Trump. They also refer to it as “calling balls and strikes.”

Anyway, the scorecard goes something like this: “Gorsuch good, Carrier deal bad. Withdrawal from climate agreement good, a trillion in new infrastructure bad.” And so on. Little checkmarks.

But the little checkmarks — even the big ones — don’t cover the moral dimension of the presidency, which is large. No conservative would have disputed that, pre-Trump. But now many people call it “moral preening” (and worse).

When pro-Trump conservatives asked other conservatives to look away from the question of truth, decency, and honor, they asked a lot — more than they might have known. It was too much to ask, too much to accept.

If I had my way, the Republican party — starting with Trump — and the conservative movement would tell the alt-Right, or whatever it should be called, to take their frog and their torches and their buzzwords — “globalist” and all the rest – and stuff it.

I think that, if conservatism gets associated in the public mind with nationalism, populism, demagoguery, grievance, race-consciousness, and tribalism, we are cooked. And the country too.
Is it that hard to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists? It shouldn't be a defense that Obama praised Black Lives Matter after policemen were killed or to talk about the violent actions of the antifa forces. How old do you have to be to realize that two wrongs don't make a right?

And I'm afraid that Donald Trump has become equated in people's minds with the Republican Party and thus with conservatism and it doesn't matter if conservatives call him out.

David French points out that Steve Bannon, when he was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, called the site "the platform for the alt-right." French reminds us of how conservative critics of Donald Trump were targeted and threatened by the alt-right and Trump supporters in particularly vicious and personal attacks including anti-Semitic malignancies. If the President really means what he said in condemning racist evil, then he should get rid of Steve Bannon.
Earlier today President Trump clearly and explicitly repudiated racism and white supremacy. This was a positive step, a vast improvement from his statement on Saturday, which pointedly omitted any reference to white supremacy, Nazism, or their acolytes. While today’s political violence is still far from that seen on the worst days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, this weekend’s events have rightfully shaken millions of well-meaning Americans.

If the president wants to take decisive action to distance himself from America’s most hateful elements, there is one thing he can do today: He can fire Steve Bannon, the man who gave them a platform.


Rumors seem to abound
that Trump is already tired of Bannon and is getting advice on all sides to get rid of him.
Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged President Trump to fire him. Anthony Scaramucci, the president’s former communications director, thrashed him on television as a white nationalist. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, refused to even say he could work with him.

For months, Mr. Trump has considered ousting Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist and relentless nationalist who ran the Breitbart website and called it a “platform for the alt-right.” Mr. Trump has sent Mr. Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office, according to aides and friends of the president.

So far, Mr. Trump has not been able to follow through — a product of his dislike of confrontation, the bonds of a foxhole friendship forged during the 2016 presidential campaign and concerns about what mischief Mr. Bannon might do once he leaves the protective custody of the West Wing.

Not least, Mr. Bannon embodies the defiant populism at the core of the president’s agenda. Despite being marginalized, Mr. Bannon consulted with the president repeatedly over the weekend as Mr. Trump struggled to respond to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. In general, Mr. Bannon has cautioned the president not to criticize far-right activists too severely for fear of antagonizing a small but energetic part of his base.
But, apparently the biggest sin of Bannon's is upstaging the President.
Mr. Bannon’s purported crimes: Leaking nasty stories about General McMaster and other colleagues he deems insufficiently populist; feuding bitterly with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and creating his own cadre within the West Wing that operates outside the chain of command.

One of his main sins in the eyes of the president is appearing to revel in the perception that he is the mastermind behind the rise of a pliable Mr. Trump. The president was deeply annoyed at a Time magazine cover article that described Mr. Bannon as the real power and brains behind the Trump throne. Mr. Trump was equally put off by a recent book, “Devil’s Bargain,” by the Bloomberg Businessweek writer Joshua Green, which lavished credit for Mr. Trump’s election on Mr. Bannon.
Trump just can't stand anyone else getting credit for what he regards as the biggest election victory in history. The courtier should never come before the king.

I was just thinking that analogy when I read further in the article that members of the Trump administration joke that working for him is like working for Henry VIII. If that means working for an immature, self-centered and narcissistic leader who fired (and executed) Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, and Thomas Cromwell, not to mention what he did to get rid of four of his wives. But the comparison, apparently, appealed to Bannon who saw himself as Thomas More.
Top administration officials like to joke that working for Mr. Trump is like toiling in the court of Henry VIII. Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget director, recently handed out copies of the play “A Man for All Seasons,” about the last years of Sir Thomas More, Henry’s chancellor, who was executed for failing to endorse Henry’s split with Rome. Mr. Bannon read it, according to a person familiar with the situation, and was amused when an associate compared him to More.
Oh, just please stop. Is everyone in the White House a total brown-noser? Read "A Man for All Seasons" or watch the movie. There is no universe in which Bannon can be compared to More, who by the way, is a Saint Thomas More.

And just to convince everyone of how sincere he is in fighting racism and for supporting the rule of law, Trump has announced that he's considering pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” the president said Sunday, during a conversation with Fox News at his club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”
A lot of experts think that Arpaio might not even serve time for this conviction, but could get up to six months in prison. But why not pardon a guy who was convicted of violating a judge's order to stop detaining people just because he suspected they were here illegally? Arpaio endorsed Trump in the election and that is what is most important to Trump.

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Cause and effect?
James Mattis fans would like to think so.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a strong warning to North Korea Monday: “If they shoot at the United States, I’m assuming they’ve hit the United States. … If they do that, then it’s game on.”

“You don’t shoot at people in this world unless you want to bear the consequences,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.

Soon after Mattis issued his warning, state-run North Korean media outlet KCNA reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had inspected his military’s plan to launch missiles at Guam and discussed the possibility of a strike with his top commanders.

Megan McArdle recalls her time working in a tech firm serving the financial industry and explains why she left working in what she called the "brotastic atmosphere of IT."
his will make me sound a bit dim, but at the time, it never occurred to me that being a female in this bro ecosystem might impinge my ultimate career prospects. Nor did I miss having women in the room. I liked working with the bros just fine. And the sexual harassment, while annoying, was just that: annoying. I cannot recall that it ever affected my work, nor that I lost any sleep over it.

No, the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”

I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.
That doesn't mean that there aren't women like that, just that there don't seem be as many women who love tech to the same degree as McArdle's colleagues did.
Thinking back to those women I knew in IT, I can't imagine any of them would have spent a weekend building a fiber-channel network in her basement.

I’m not saying such women don’t exist; I know they do. I’m just saying that if they exist in equal numbers to the men, it’s odd that I met so very many men like that, and not even one woman like that, in a job where all the women around me were obviously pretty comfortable with computers. We can’t blame it on residual sexism that prevented women from ever getting into the field; the number of women working with computers has actually gone down over time.
And her experience connects to the Google engineer's memo and the possibility that there are reasons other than sexism for why there aren't as many women computer scientists.
I think it’s probably true that my firm was mostly male because mostly men were interested in doing that kind of work at that level. But as my story also suggests, when a field is mostly guys, it’s going to feel less than perfectly comfortable for women unless some pretty heroic efforts are made to counteract all that free-floating testosterone. That may retard both women’s career prospects and their interest in joining that field in the first place.

So even if the disparities don’t start off as discrimination, you can still end up with an environment in which women who could be great engineers decide they’d rather do something else. A “natural” split of, say, 65-35 could evolve into a much more lopsided environment that feels downright unfriendly to a lot of women. And the women who have stuck around anyway are apt to get very mad indeed when they hear something that seems to suggest they’re not experiencing what they quite obviously are.

And yet, you still have to ask whether shamestorming Damore and getting him sacked was really the best way to convince him -- or anyone else -- that he’s mistaken. Did anyone’s understanding of the complex quandaries of gender diversity advance? If there were guys at Google wondering whether the women around them really deserved their jobs, did anyone wake up the morning after Damore's firing with the revelation: “Good God, how could I have been so blind?” No, I suspect those guys are now thinking: “You see? Women can’t handle math or logic.”

The mob reaction did prove that women indeed have some power in tech. But the power to fire people is not why most people get into engineering. Good engineers want to make things. The conversation around Damore's memo hasn't made the world a better place, as they say in Silicon Valley. It has just made a lot of people angry.

Matthew Boomer observes that what is happening in Venezuela these days puts the lie to the "left's hopes of 'good socialism.' He details how so many on the left argued that Latin America would bring a different variety of socialism and be an answer to the authoritarian governments backed previously by the U.S. There was going to be a new brand of socialism in Latin America as represented by Hugo Chávez.
I remember sitting in college classes and learning about how Chávez and similar, though less violent populists such as Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Brazil’s Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff were forging hope by harnessing popular energy into governments that would direct economies toward social justice.
But it just hasn't turned out htat way.
It Wasn’t Supposed to Turn Out This Way

Fissures are forming for each of these regimes. Morales, in defiance of the constitution and a popular referendum, is moving to abrogate term limits for his office; Correa’s successors are locked in a battle over corruption that has left the government in chaos; da Silva is entering his sixth corruption trial; and Rousseff has been impeached. But it is Venezuela, the nation Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro have led into fire and ruin, which fully captures just how fatal are the conceits of democratic socialism in Latin America.

The terror and repression Chavismo swore to deposit in the dustbin of history have reemerged in its defense, with hit squads intimidating and massacring dissidents while Maduro swats down checks on his power. The equality it promised exists only in the cruelest of terms: equality of want, equality of desperation, equality of misery. A country endowed with bountiful resources has spent and collectivized its way into such abject poverty that it cannot provide its people with food and toilet paper....

Today, the government that swore to empower its people tortures artists and activists. Quality of life evaporates as mortality rates rise, jobs disappear, and basic utilities like power and water become unavailable. Initiatives to provide everyday necessities for poor neighbors get people jailed for hoarding. Basic governance becomes impossible as a carousel of suspected rivals—most recently attorney general Luisa Ortega, who was removed last weekend—are purged, leaving Maduro a gaggle of sycophants for him to fiddle with as the country burns.

And now it seems that a prominent member of the Venezuelan government may have put an assassination order out on Marco Rubio.
One of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders may have put out an order to kill Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fervent critic of the South American country’s government, according to intelligence obtained by the U.S. last month.

Though federal authorities couldn’t be sure at the time if the uncorroborated threat was real, they took it seriously enough that Rubio has been guarded by a security detail for several weeks in both Washington and Miami.

Believed to be behind the order: Diosdado Cabello, the influential former military chief and lawmaker from the ruling socialist party who has publicly feuded with Rubio....

The death threat was outlined in a memo to several law enforcement agencies disseminated last month by the Department of Homeland Security. The memo, designated “law enforcement sensitive” but not classified, was obtained by the Miami Herald.

The memo revealed an “order to have Senator Rubio assassinated,” though it also warned that “no specific information regarding an assassination plot against Senator Rubio has been garnered thus far” and that the U.S. had not been able to verify the threat. That Cabello has been a vocal Rubio critic in Venezuelan media was also noted, a sign federal authorities are well aware of the political bluster complicating the situation.

According to the memo, Cabello might have gone as far as to contact “unspecified Mexican nationals” in connection with his plan to harm Rubio.
Perhaps the story isn't true and is just some vainglorious bluster. But would it really surprise anyone that one of the chief thugs of the Maduro regime had done such a thing?

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Daniel Hannan writes about how those on the British left have had a difficult time dealing with the reality of what is happening in Venezuela. They've tried denying it or blaming it on the CIA. They've tried to deny that Chavez and Maduro were ever socialists. I guess we're still waiting for that mythical socialist government that proves that socialism is a successful economic and political form of government.
All the thrashing around is an attempt to avoid grappling with that hard truth. Venezuela is not semi‑socialist or quasi-socialist. It has gone the whole hog, totus porcus. Chávez promised to govern for the many not the few, increased taxes and spending, nationalised private enterprise. Result? The same as always: shortages, hunger and, eventually, the use of state-run distribution centres to reward party members and punish political opponents.

There is something almost heroic about the refusal of Britain’s hard Left to infer anything from actual results. The routine is always the same. Revolutionaries seize power somewhere and are hailed in Islington as heroes until their regime leads (as socialist regimes invariably lead) to squalor and repression, at which point they were never “real” socialists in the first place.

The historian Giles Udy has just published a book on Labour’s early infatuation with the Soviet Union. George Lansbury, Labour’s Corbynesque leader in the early Thirties, had visited the USSR and come back with stories of progress and plenty. The pattern was repeated again and again. Romania, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Nicaragua – all had their British admirers, right up to the moments of their collapse.

How are we to explain it, this determined attachment to a system that has failed every time – every time – it has been tried?

For some, it is the elevation, to a preposterous degree, of motive over outcome. Never mind that poverty in Venezuela has risen from 48 to 82 per cent, that the minimum wage has fallen in value by three quarters, that infant mortality is up a hundredfold. Everyone knows that socialists care about the underprivileged! For others, socialism’s appeal lies precisely in its unattainability.

In every age and nation, some people are in the market for creeds that promise a new dawn, making no concession to past tradition or to human frailty. In this regard, if in no other, extreme socialists resemble hardline Islamists. They are happy to crack a few eggs in order to make the omelette.

Still others are prepared to ally with any cause, however oppressive, provided it is sufficiently anti-Western. I fear that Corbyn is in this category. The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, of which he was the animating spirit, was anti-American before it was pro‑Venezuelan. Even now, diehard British Chavistas make ludicrous comparisons with our own society (“Starvation in Caracas? There are food banks in Cardiff!”)
Hannan goes on to notice how different standards are used to judge capitalist and socialist countries.
While no country is perfect, we can say on the basis of empirical data that open markets make people freer, wealthier and happier than socialism. There have been some laboratory-standard experiments: West Germany versus East Germany, South Korea versus North Korea.

Yet there is a mulish tendency to judge capitalism by its necessarily imperfect real-world outcomes, while judging socialism as a textbook theory that has never been properly implemented.

To see quite how absurd this is, imagine someone saying: “Fascism is a wonderful idea: you mustn’t confuse it with the dictatorial regimes in the Thirties that falsely called themselves fascist.”

Socialism always follows the same trajectory. It begins with slogans about The People; it ends with the knock in the night. Force is not incidental to a state-run economy; it is intrinsic. And all for what? Look at any example in the word, from Cuba to Czechoslovakia, from Venezuela to Vietnam. The eggs are smashed; but the omelette never emerges.
If only those naifs in colleges across the country who are so enamored of socialism would ponder Hannan's arguments and understand that there is not some ideal socialism out there that has just never been tried, but would somehow work just fine if it were.

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Ted Balaker writes about
what happened when a university aired the documentary Can We Take a Joke? about how political correctness is ruining the ability of comedians to come onto college campuses. The viewing was hosted by a group called Students for Free Thought which was established to promote free speech.
The film examines the clash between comedy and outrage culture, and in it comedians ranging from newbie college jokesters to successful veterans such as Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Christina Pazsitzky, Adam Carolla, Lisa Lampanelli, and Jim Norton push back against the “Outrage Mob” and stand up for comedy and free speech.

The film includes a variety of free speech scholars, and pays special attention to the college scene. It explains how universities have taught generations of students that they can shut down opinions they don’t like simply by declaring they’re offended.
The group had announced the screening of the documentary and scheduled a discussion of the issues raised in the movie afterwards. However, the result was exactly what the movie depicts.
Can We Take a Joke? includes footage of incidents where outraged college students shouted down speakers they disagree with. Ironically, that’s pretty much what happened at the Lawrence screening. Some students shouted at the screen, then a dispute erupted; oneM student was asked to leave, and organizers stopped the film halfway through the screening.
So what was the response of the administration at Lawrence University? You probably can guess.
Shortly after the event, the president of the university’s student government announced the decision to deny official recognition to Students for Free Thought, explaining that he and his colleagues were “concerned about the well-being of the campus at large” and didn’t believe the group would “have a positive impact.”

President Burstein thanked the student government leaders for their “careful analysis.” Never mind that the university’s official mission statement promises, “members of the Lawrence community are free to engage in, speak on, and write about scholarly research and creative activity without fear of censorship or retaliation.”
So an organization to promote free speech is considered detrimental to the campus. We're living in bizarro world.

I heartily recommend the movie. It's both funny and thought-provoking. You can sense the frustration and irritation that some comedians feel about how people are trying to dictate what they can make jokes about. Here's a clip.