Friday, August 04, 2017

Cruising the Web

Well, we can all relax - Trump's aggravation with Jeff Sessions is not going to end up with Sessions' being fired, at least according to a leak about a call the new chief of staff, John Kelly, reportedly made to Sessions.
New White House chief of staff John Kelly, in one of his first acts in his new post, called Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassure him that his position was safe despite the recent onslaught of criticism he has taken from President Donald Trump.

Kelly called Sessions on Saturday to stress that the White House was supportive of his work and wanted him to continue his job, according to two people familiar with the call. The people demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about a private conversation. Kelly, who was appointed to the post the day before, described the president as still miffed at Sessions but did not plan to fire him or hope he would resign.
Maybe that's a sign that Kelly is bringing a bit of order to the White House, but he still can't keep Trump from tweeting out ignorant and ridiculous stuff as he did on Wednesday morning.
Did Trump sleep through the Cold War? Has he heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis? And is he really blaming Congress for passing sanctions on Russia - a law that he just signed off on? And just tweeting insults at Congress for not being able to pass a health care bill doesn't do anyone any good. It's just immature. Ed Morrissey's comments are right on point.
So yes, relations with Russia are obviously getting worse, but the placing of blame in this case is rather curious. Have relations suffered because of the sanctions bill? Os it it because (a) Russia committed hostile acts when attempting to influence our election, (b) Russian troops occupy eastern Ukraine, (c) Russia has engaged in provocations aimed at the Baltic states, (d) Russia lied to us about chemical weapons in Syria, or (e) all of the above? If we’re playing “chicken or the egg” with this and the sanctions are the chicken, then I’ll go with (e) as the egg and the chicken as the consequence.

And if the sanctions bill was this bad, why did Trump sign it? Doesn’t he bear any responsibility for that decision? Rather than attack Congress, perhaps Trump ought to focus his attention on why Congress felt compelled to rebuke Russia in the first place — and then brush up on history before hitting the ‘send’ button on Twitter.

David French has a salutary warning for Republicans eager to be outraged at the news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to investigate financial ties between the Trump campaign, his associates, and Russia.
Third, this sounds trite, but it’s worth saying anyway: The investigation is serious, and no one should just blithely assume it’s a “witch hunt.” No Republican or conservative should bank any portion of their reputation on defending a team that included Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort until we have greater awareness of the facts. Remember it was just one month ago that Republicans were confidently declaring that there was “no evidence of collusion.” That was before we saw emails indicating that Donald Trump Jr. would “love” to meet a purported Russian representative who intended to share “official documents” as part of a Russian government effort to support Trump. That was before we knew a meeting actually took place.

There is just too much we don’t know to draw any conclusions on the merits, but a man like Mueller does not impanel grand juries lightly. This story is only just beginning.

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The Washington Post reports that cities have had to rehire police officers who had been fired for misconduct. It's all due to union contracts.
Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.

Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.
This includes officers who sexually abused a minor or shot and killed an unarmed man.
A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.

The chiefs say the appeals process leaves little margin for error. Yet police agencies sometimes sabotage their own attempts to shed troubled officers by making procedural mistakes. The result is that police chiefs have booted hundreds of officers they have deemed unfit to be in their ranks, only to be compelled to take them back and return them to the streets with guns and badges.

“It’s demoralizing, but not just to the chief,” said Charles H. Ramsey, former police commissioner in Philadelphia and chief in the District. Philadelphia and the District together have had to rehire 80 fired officers since 2006, three of them twice.

“It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks,” Ramsey said. “It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.”
This parallels stories of teachers returned to the classroom or kept in so-called "rubber rooms" because of the inflexibility of union contracts. In both instances, the union is more concerned with protecting accused employees rather than what is better for the community.

Well, now we know what it takes for the Democrats in the Senate to stop blocking Trump nominations - threaten a delay the Senate break.
The Senate voted Thursday afternoon to confirm a batch of 78 Trump administration nominees for various federal level agencies, departments and the Pentagon....

Leading into Thursday’s votes, the Senate had only confirmed just over 20 percent of nominees since President Donald Trump took office in January.

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I guess this was fake news as the New York Times reported that the Department of Justice was set to focus on stopping universities from using affirmative action against white applicants.
The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

The document, an internal announcement to the civil rights division, seeks current lawyers interested in working for a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

The announcement suggests that the project will be run out of the division’s front office, where the Trump administration’s political appointees work, rather than its Educational Opportunities Section, which is run by career civil servants and normally handles work involving schools and universities.

The document does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination because of affirmative action admissions policies. But the phrasing it uses, “intentional race-based discrimination,” cuts to the heart of programs designed to bring more minority students to university campuses.
Well, actually, all that guesswork that the NYT reporter, Charlie Savage, put into that report was wrong.
DOJ Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores refuted the report in a statement Wednesday evening.

“Press reports regarding the personnel posting in the Civil Rights Division have been inaccurate,” she said. “The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior administration left unresolved.

“The complaint alleges racial discrimination against Asian Americans in a university’s admissions policy and practices. This Department of Justice has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative, or policy related to university admissions in general. The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination,” she said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the department told ABC News that the job posting that prompted the story "does not reflect a new policy."

"This was a personnel posting. It does not reflect a new policy or program or any changes to long-standing DOJ policy. Whenever there's a credible allegation of discrimination on the basis of race, the department will look into it," a Justice Department official said.
So all the people and organizations with hysterical reactions to the NYT story can just calm down. This is about the complaint by Asian Americans that Harvard's admission procedures are discriminating against them. As Ed Morrissey notes,
The NYT catches up with its own story today on this complaint, but never mentions that its original story turned out to be false. The headline still suggests that the case heralds a broader fight against affirmative action on campuses, but offers as much evidence for that as it did for its Tuesday allegation that the DoJ was looking to protect white people, which is to say none at all except reportorial speculation....

After the NYT published its highly speculative and arguably debunked article (which they have yet to correct or update, by the way), a number of media outlets swallowed the story whole rather than exhibit some journalistic skepticism about its thin sourcing.
It is rather amazing that the NYT wouldn't do anything to indicate that their original speculative reporting was entirely baseless. By the way, this is what the DOJ is investigating.
By most standards, Austin Jia holds an enviable position. A rising sophomore at Duke, Mr. Jia attends one of the top universities in the country, setting him up for success.

But with his high G.P.A., nearly perfect SAT score and activities — debate team, tennis captain and state orchestra — Mr. Jia believes he should have had a fair shot at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. Those Ivy League colleges rejected him after he applied in the fall of 2015.

It was particularly disturbing, Mr. Jia said, when classmates with lower scores than his — but who were not Asian-American, like him — were admitted to those Ivy League institutions.

“My gut reaction was that I was super disillusioned by how the whole system was set up,” Mr. Jia, 19, said.

Students like Mr. Jia are now the subject of a lawsuit accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions by imposing a penalty for their high achievement and giving preferences to other racial minorities.

The case, which is clearly aimed for the Supreme Court, puts Asian-Americans front and center in the latest stage of the affirmative action debate. The issue is whether there has been discrimination against Asian-Americans in the name of creating a diverse student body. The Justice Department, which has signaled that it is looking to investigate “intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions,” may well focus on Harvard.

The Harvard case asserts that the university’s admissions process amounts to an illegal quota system, in which roughly the same percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, whites and Asian-Americans have been admitted year after year, despite fluctuations in application rates and qualifications.

“It falls afoul of our most basic civil rights principles, and those principles are that your race and your ethnicity should not be something to be used to harm you in life nor help you in life,” said Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, the organization that is suing Harvard.
Given the documents that BuzzFeed published earlier this year about the comments from Princeton's admissions officers about how they regarded applicants from minorities, it's not so unbelievable that university admissions offices are biased in how they regard minorities.
But documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show Princeton’s admissions officers repeatedly wrote of Asian-American applicants as being difficult to differentiate, referring to them dismissively as having “very familiar profiles,” calling them “standard premeds,” or “difficult to pluck out.” The comments were noted by civil rights investigators at the Education Department as they probed allegations of racial bias in the school’s admissions system.

Of a Hispanic applicant, an admissions officer wrote, “Tough to see putting her ahead of others. No cultural flavor in app.” Of a black student, another said, “Very few African Americans with verbal scores like this.”

The documents highlight the tricky, perhaps impossible, legal tightrope that elite colleges must walk as they choose the lucky few they will accept each year. The schools want to select a racially diverse student body, but they cannot accept or reject applicants based primarily on their race. And they cannot set quotas for the number of students from a particular race who are admitted, even as the goal of a diverse student body essentially requires it.

At times, the documents show, admissions officers twist themselves into bizarre knots as they consider — and dance around — the issue of applicants’ race. “Were there a touch more cultural flavor I'd be more enthusiastic,” one officer wrote of a native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

The comments were unearthed by government investigators after two Asian-American students who had been rejected by the school complained of racial discrimination. In 2008, the Education Department began an investigation into the matter, collecting reams of detailed information on 539 individual applicants, probing how and why admissions officers decided who to admit.

An investigator questioned an admissions officer after an Asian-American student was described eagerly by a another officer as a “first-generation Chinese student whose own life has not been easy, trying to make the lives of others better through service. One of the best we’ll ever see from [high school].”

The second officer was less enthusiastic. “Perfectly able and appealing,” the officer wrote. “Very familiar profile.”

"Bright premed, but like many others," another admissions officer wrote of an Asian-American applicant.

BuzzFeed News obtained a number of documents from the investigation through a Freedom of Information Act request. Princeton has sued the Education Department to prevent the release of many more, in a suit that involves an anti-affirmative action group, Students for Fair Admissions.

The files released show that in brief summaries meant to present applicants to a committee, officers candidly discussed the race of black, Latino, and Native American applicants, often seemingly searching for those who highlighted their racial backgrounds rather than checking off boxes on their Common Applications.

"Nice essays, sweet personality," one admissions officer said of a multiracial applicant. "Bi-racial but not [National Hispanic Recognition Program] and no recognition of her [background] in app by anyone." The National Hispanic Recognition Program recognizes high-performing students who are "at least one-quarter Hispanic/Latino.”

When one reader called an applicant's Native American heritage "appealing," the other noted that the only place the boy had mentioned the heritage was in a checkbox on his Common Application. He called himself "a white boy," the admissions officer noted.
Of course, Princeton says that they were doing nothing wrong. Now that the DOJ is going to investigate the complaint against Harvard, we might eventually see what that university's records display of how they evaluated Asian American applicants versus other applicants.
Every admissions officer interviewed by the Education Department said explicitly that they did not think it was more difficult for Asian-Americans to be admitted.

But Blum, Kahlenberg, and others say that the data that is available undermines this assertion. They argue that while the share of Asian-Americans applying to Ivy League and other elite schools has risen steadily, the percentage of Asian-Americans making up their classes has stayed relatively stable. Meanwhile, they say, research shows that Asian-Americans must score significantly higher on their standardized tests in order to be admitted — 140 points higher than a white student, according to one study.

Students for Fair Admissions claims that at the root of this alleged discrimination against Asian-Americans is affirmative action itself. By admitting black, Latino, and Native American applicants with lower academic scores, they say, elite colleges are discriminating against Asian-Americans — and whites, who also generally must score higher on tests to be admitted, though not as high as Asian-Americans.
How are these facts not evidence of discrimination?
To gain admission to college, Asian-American students had to score 140 points higher than white students, 270 points higher than Hispanic students, and 450 points higher than black students.

Compounding the problem, the complaints presented strong evidence of prohibited quotas. As the Asian-American population expanded, its college-admission rate stagnated — in much the same way that anti-Semitic administrators used to place caps on Jewish students.

At Yale, for example, from 2001 to 2008 the percentage of Asian-American students never exceeded 13.80 percent of the student body or dropped below 13.50 percent — an unbelievable almost decade-long fluctuation of only 0.3 percent. The caps change over time (they increase and decrease), but they’re always there.

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So already some on the left want to stop HBO from producing and airing a new series by the same pair who brought us Game of THrones because the series is set to be an alternative history about a world where the Confederacy won the Civil War. The series hasn't been written and hasn't been made, but they want to exercise some sort of veto power over HBO.

When I first heard of this proposal I figured that it would be a show meant to evoke current racial conflicts rather than a glorification of the white race. And it seems that that is indeed what the executive producers and writers, the husband and wife team of Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, who are both African American, have in mind as they said in an interview with Vulture. Nichelle Tramble Spellman explained what excited her about the project.
And immediately what the conversation turned into is how we could draw parallels between what has been described as America’s original sin to a present-day conversation. In this futuristic world, you could have this conversation in a straightforward manner without it being steeped in history: “What does this look like now.” I think what was interesting to all of us was that we were going to handle this show, and handle the content of the show, without using typical antebellum imagery. There is not going to be, you know, the big Gone With the Wind mansion. This is present day, or close to present day, and how the world would have evolved if the South had been successful seceding from the Union.
Her husband put forth his ideas of how their show would relate to modern day.
For me and Nichelle, it’s deeply personal because we are the offspring of this history. We deal with it directly and have for our entire lives. We deal with it in Hollywood, we deal with it in the real world when we’re dealing with friends and family members. And I think Nichelle and I both felt a sense of urgency in trying to find a way to support a discussion that is percolating but isn’t happening enough. As people of color and minorities in general are starting to get a voice, I think there’s a duty to force this discussion....

What people need to recognize is, and it makes me really want to get into the show: The shit is alive and real today. I think people have got to stop pretending that slavery was something that happened and went away. The shit is affecting people in the present day. And it’s easy for folks to hide from it, because sometimes you’re not able to map it out, especially with how insidious racism has become. But everyone knows that with Trump coming into power, a bunch of shit that had always been there got resurfaced. So the idea that this would be pornography goes back to people imagining whips and plantations. What they need to be imagining is how fucked up things are today, and a story that allows us to now dramatize it in a more tangible matter.
So the executive producers/writers behind the show are planning on a show that would make people think of today and how bad they think African Americans are suffering today by portraying an alternate universe where the South was victorious. They think they have a "duty to force this discussion" - a "discussion that is percolating but isn't happening enough." Really? It seems that race is something that we discuss quite a lot today. We've spent the last few years discussing race and police, race and university admissions, race and Oscar nominees, race and art, race and sports, race and jobs, race and the economy, you name it. Who says that this discussion isn't happening enough. And now, after this criticism of the show from the left, does anyone imagine that the writers would allow anything in the show but depictions of evil whites and the mistreatment of blacks? The irony is that, if these critics succeeded in forcing HBO to cancel the show, they'd most likely be killing off a project that would endorse exactly what they believe about race in America.