Thursday, September 07, 2017

Cruising the Web

Here's a couple neat stories about some of the ways Texans have dealt with the aftermath of Harvey. The biggest Texan grocer chain HEB has provided a model of how to keep running during a natural disaster.
In Texas, a grocery chain is now inspiring memes.

One goes like this: "State and federal resources are struggling to get into impacted areas. H.E.B. — outta the way, we're coming."

Another adds: "I’ll see your FEMA and Red Cross and raise you my Texas grocery store chain."

The images refer to the largest grocer in the state, H-E-B, with about 350 stores scattered throughout Texas and Mexico. At a time when retail watchers question the future of brick-and-mortar stores due to Amazon's continued ascendance, the 112-year-old retailer is drawing widespread praise after managing to open 60 of its 83 stores in Houston last Sunday, hours after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas as a Category 4 storm. (Now, 79 of the 83 stores are open.)

When employees couldn't get to work, some stores still operated with as few as five people: one stationed at the door as crowd control and four working the registers, trying to get people out as quickly as possible.

On Saturday morning, I spoke with Scott McClelland, a 27-year H-E-B veteran who is president of the chain's Houston division. For much of the week, he had worked from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with days blurring together.

The behind-the-scenes operation, as he told me, is a complicated dance involving multiple command centers, a helicopter, private planes, military style vehicles and frequent calls to suppliers, urging them to send toilet paper — and to skip the Funyuns.
I've already admired HEB for their cute ads featuring the San Antonio Spurs. They're always fun.
They always make me smile.

It's been cool to read
about the use of drones in recovering from Harvey.
In the first six days after the storm hit, the Federal Aviation Administration issued more than 40 separate authorizations for emergency drone activities above flood-ravaged Houston and surrounding areas. They ranged from inspecting roadways to checking railroad tracks to assessing the condition of water plants, oil refineries and power lines.

That total climbed above 70 last Friday and topped 100 by Sunday, including some flights prohibited under routine circumstances, according to people familiar with the details. Industry officials said all of the operations—except for a handful flown by media outlets—were conducted in conjunction with, or on behalf of, local, state or federal agencies.

One person familiar with the details said certain applications were processed within hours, an unusually fast turnaround for federal safety regulators accustomed to days or weeks of analysis for such decisions....

Now that recovery efforts are under way, Mr. Wynne said relying on drones can help a wide range of industries pinpoint and repair damage, adding that “it’s in everybody’s interest that they get up and running” as quickly as possible.
We're really stretching the limits of how people could assess damages after a major disaster.
“This is the one of the first big disasters where we can show how valuable drones can be,” says Brandon Stark, who directs the Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety at the University of California, Merced. In the coming weeks and months, they'll help locals assess damage to homes, roads, bridges, power lines, oil and gas facilities, and office buildings—and determine whether it's safe to go back.
Kudos to the FAA for relaxing rules for authorizing drone operation in the wake of Harvey. Local government agencies, oil and gas companies, railroad companies, insurance companies, and the Red Cross have all been able to use drones to fly in and check on conditions throughout the area. It's heartening and amazing to see what technology can do.

Although grocery stores was wiped out as people stocked up in anticipation of the storm, there was one exception to what Texans wanted to buy: tofu and vegetarian food.

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Apparently, it is okay for Democrats to question a judicial candidate's religion in the name of abortion.
This afternoon, during a confirmation hearing for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein attacked the nominee for her Roman Catholic faith.

Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written about the role of religion in public life and delivered academic lectures to Christian legal groups. Drawing on some of these materials, Feinstein launched a thinly veiled attack on Barrett’s Catholic faith, hinting that her religious views will prevent her from judging fairly.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”

Feinstein issued this highly unnecessary and evidently anti-Catholic comment in spite of the fact that Barrett said at the start of the hearing, “It is never appropriate for a judge to apply their personal convictions whether it derives from faith or personal conviction.”

Other Democratic senators took issue with Barrett over her faith as well. Senate minority whip Dick Durbin criticized Barrett’s use of the term “orthodox Catholic,” insisting that it unfairly maligns Catholics who do not hold certain positions about abortion or the death penalty. (Durbin himself is a Catholic who abandoned his previous pro-life position.) “Are you an orthodox Catholic?” he later asked Barrett point blank.
These senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee seem to have missed Article VI of the Constitution.
no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Can you imagine if they tried to bring in the faith of a Jewish or Muslim nominee? But devout Catholics are fair game even if they are misreading or misleading Barret's attitude on faith and the courts.
In fact, Barrett has explicitly written that “judges cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge.” She has also insisted that judges ought to recuse themselves in situations when their faith conflicts with their judicial responsibility.

One would think these arguments would resolve Democrats’ concerns, but it seems that those on the left are indeed willing to take issue with Barrett’s determination that Catholic judges should recuse themselves if personal convictions stemming from their faith would impede their ability to do their job.

Feinstein’s comments this afternoon revealed that anti-Catholic bigotry is still alive in the U.S., even, and perhaps especially, among those leftists who are the first to decry prejudice and discrimination against other minorities.
John Garvey, the co-author of the article that Amy Barrett wrote, explains the problematic part of that article.
Amy Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame, was grilled on Wednesday by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee about an article she and I wrote together in 1998 when I was a law professor and she was my student. In that article we argued that the death penalty was immoral, as the Catholic Church teaches (in common with Quakers, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and the 38 member communions in the National Council of Churches). We went on to say that a Catholic judge who held that view might, in rare cases, have to recuse herself under 28 U.S.C. § 455. That is a federal statute that asks a federal judge to step aside when she has conscientious scruples that prevent her from deciding a case in conformity with the facts and the law.

Catholic judges are not alone in facing such dilemmas. An observant Quaker would have the same problem. And I like to think that any federal judge would have had moral objections to enforcing the fugitive slave laws Congress passed before the Civil War. That's one of the reasons we have a federal recusal statute – to allow relief to judges in such predicaments.

Law professors less scrupulous than Prof. Barrett have suggested that sometimes judges should fudge or bend (just a little bit) laws that every right-thinking person would find immoral. In our article we rejected that course of action. "There is a real moral cost to undermining the legal system, even in small ways," we wrote. Our legal system "is a decent and just institution that judges should take care to preserve."

Perhaps the Alliance for Justice, which has mounted a campaign to discredit Prof. Barrett, didn't get that far in reading the article. Its website says this: "Stunningly, Barrett has asserted that judges should not follow the law or the Constitution when it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs. In fact, Barrett has said that judges should be free to put their personal views ahead of their judicial oath to faithfully follow the law."

Barrett (and I) said no such thing. We said precisely the opposite.

There are judges who take the view the Alliance condemns. Justice Brennan always voted against the death penalty because he wanted "human dignity for all." Justice Marshall did the same because he felt that his position was "so morally correct." Their position as Supreme Court justices allowed them to advance this interpretation of the Eighth Amendment, even when the law was settled. But if they had been sitting on the Seventh Circuit, the court for which Prof. Barrett has been nominated, they should have recused themselves.

The case against Prof. Barrett is so flimsy, so transparently at odds with her opponents' own principles, that you have to wonder whether there isn't some other, unspoken, cause for their objection.
Of course, the Democrats aren't worried about Barrett voting against capital punishment. That wouldn't bother them one bit. No, it's another position on the side of life that worries them.
I suspect what really troubled them was that, as a Catholic, her pro-life views might extend beyond criminal defendants to the unborn. If true, the focus on our law review article is all the more puzzling. After all, our point was that judges should respect the law, even laws they disagree with. And if they can't enforce them, they should recuse themselves.

A proponent of liberal abortion policy should want a judge like that.
No, they want judges who will use their religious beliefs to vote the liberal way. Anyone else is to be opposed.

The WSJ explains why the deal that Trump concluded with Pelosi and Schumer is both bad and a result of the GOP's own lack of control of the party within the House.
What really happened is that Mr. Trump overruled his Treasury Secretary and GOP leaders who wanted a debt-ceiling increase to run past the 2018 election. Mr. Trump instead gave Democrats exactly what they want, which is to set up an even steeper fiscal cliff on debt and spending in December when Republicans hope to be focusing on tax reform.

Republicans will now have to take at least two difficult votes to raise the debt ceiling, while Democratic leverage will increase when the day of reckoning comes. The chances of a government shutdown in December have now risen sharply, or at least they have if Mr. Trump wants to pass something with more than a few Republican votes.

Mr. Trump may not like GOP leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, but is he trying to elect Speaker Pelosi? As Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse put it in a press release: “The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad.”

Part of the problem is that Congressional Republicans once again helped put themselves in this box. Congress can’t let the U.S. default on its debt, so the majority party has to raise the debt ceiling whether it likes it or not. The smart GOP play was to attach a long-term debt increase to some other must-pass legislation and get it over with. One and done.

In familiar self-defeating fashion, the usual House suspects refused, insisting that the debt ceiling get a stand-alone vote. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and Republican Study Committee leader Mark Walker also claim to be miffed that the debt-limit increase won’t include spending cuts.

Yet most of these same Members won’t vote to raise the borrowing limit no matter what they’re offered. They find the actual work of governance beneath their dignity. Their mutiny means that Mr. Ryan lacked a GOP majority to raise the debt ceiling, which meant he had to go hat in hand to Mrs. Pelosi for Democratic votes. She and Mr. Schumer came up with their three-month gambit, which Mr. Ryan immediately labeled “ridiculous” and “unworkable,” only to be sandbagged by Mr. Trump.

This may all sound like inside baseball, but it’s politically relevant because it illustrates the Republican inability to govern. The Senate killed health-care reform. The House can’t pass a budget resolution that is essential for tax reform. Mr. Trump is sore that Republican leaders failed on health care, so he now undermines their fiscal strategy and all but hands the gavels to Democrats.

After this victory for the Democrats, they will now be in a position to push for more that they want from Trump. And don't be surprised if Trump brags about future deals with the congressional Democrats. After all, he really has been a Democrat for most of his life. Why should he be any different now?

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Guy Benson goes
through Obama's Facebook post defending DACA to demonstrate how deceptive it is. Obama likes to pretend that DACA was just based on prosecutorial discretion. Er...not quite.
Ah, but DACA, and subsequently DAPA, extended far beyond traditional enforcement discretion, and he knows it. Those acts (the latter of which was struck down by federal courts) didn't merely entail formalizing a process by which law-abiding DREAMers were placed at the very bottom of the priority list for potential deportation; they also granted work permits to entire classes of people. That's a deliberate, proactive government action that involved the conferral of legal benefits, and was not just targeted enforcement shifts or adjusted resource allocation. It therefore fell well beyond the scope of "prosecutorial discretion." Obama writes that the Trump administration's act was about politics, not legality. That's patently false. Even left-of-center figures have acknowledged that DACA rested on "shaky" legal ground (Dianne Feinstein) or represented an abuse of executive authority (Jonathan Turley). Indeed, Obama himself pre-confirmed those indictments a little over a year before he signed DACA anyway
As Obama likes to argue that he simply decided to implement DACA because the Republicans wouldn't pass the DREAM Act. But he's ignoring the fact that the Democrats could have passed the DREAM Act when they controlled both houses from 2009 to January, 2011. They had 60 and then 59 votes in the Senate. Yet they didn't make any effort at all to pass the bill. If it meant so much, why didn't they do it when they could have passed it without any problem?
Sure, Democrats were often preoccupied with forcing a terrible, unpopular healthcare scheme into existence -- which continues to fail to this day -- but they had the bandwidth and the power to make DACA legislation happen if they'd chosen to prioritize it. They didn't. Why not? Far be it from me to emulate Obama's chronic inclination to impugn opponents' motives, but a cynic might wonder if Democrats might actually prefer to exploit DREAMers as a political football, rather than resolving their status permanently and legitimately.
As Benson writes, if Trump's decision to end DACA in six months is so "cruel," why didn't they try to pass the bill when they had the power to do so?
On the matter of "cruelty," tell me: Was it cruel to ignore the DREAMers in 2009 and 2010? Were they any less dream-filled or striving at that time? Was it cruel to implement a legally shoddy, admittedly temporary policy that could be instantly reversed by a subsequent president, thereby injecting chaos and fearful uncertainty back into DREAMers' lives after they'd already identified themselves to the federal government? Was it cruel to touch off the unaccompanied minor crisis at the southern border, which was heavily attributed to reports of an amnesty for children?
The Democrats were all for Obama's executive actions whenever he was exasperated with Congress. But think about what that precedent might mean.
Finally, where in the constitution is the president afforded special dispensation to abolish "cruelty" or enforce "basic decency" as he sees fit, regardless of the separation of powers? Take a moment to consider the right-wing projects that might be accomplished under Obama's subjective, law-ignoring, "that's not who we are" standard. Rather than moralizing and lecturing, Obama should focus on how he might work to accomplish something that he failed to achieve during that precious first half of his first term: Rallying Hill Democrats to pass a DREAM Act deal, even if it's paired with border enforcement -- which Democrats also claim to support.
As Yuval Levin writes,
His [Barack Obama] intervention in the DACA debate yesterday afternoon was a stark reminder of the peculiar combination of recklessness and moral preening that so often characterized his approach to the presidency. He took no responsibility for the situation he did so much to create; he just lectured the people who are stuck with it.

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How typical that Obama supporters would maneuver behind the scenes to make sure that their guy doesn't get criticism for the impact of his policy decisions.
A major United States Holocaust Memorial Museum study of the Obama Administration’s Syria policy was put on hold last night after portions of the study given to Tablet were greeted with shock and harsh criticism by prominent Jewish communal leaders and thinkers.

According to a publicity email sent by the Museum, the study was set to be launched at an event at the US Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C., on September 11 and was overseen by a former US intelligence and national security official under Obama, Cameron Hudson, now director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. ...

The intervention of the Holocaust Museum in a hot-button political dispute—and the apparent excuse of official US government inaction in the face of large-scale mass murder, complete with the gassing of civilians and government-run crematoria—alarmed many Jewish communal figures. “The first thing I have to say is: Shame on the Holocaust Museum,” said Leon Wieseltier, the literary critic and fellow at the Brookings Institution, who slammed the Museum for “releasing an allegedly scientific study that justifies bystanderism.”
A former Obama administration official is the guy in charge of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide and he, apparently, worked to get the study to absolve the Obama administration for any guilt for the genocide in Syria. There is criticism now of the politicizing of the Holocaust Museum.
Some Jewish communal leaders suggested both privately to Tablet, and in conversations with board members and staff at the Holocaust Museum, that the Museum’s moral authority had been hijacked for a partisan re-writing of recent history, and alleged that the museum had absolved the Obama administration of any moral or political error in its response to mass atrocities in Syria. At least one of the architects of the Obama administration policy in Syria, former deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, was appointed to the museum’s Memorial Council during the closing days of the Obama administration. The Council also includes Obama NSC alumni Grant Harris and Daniel Benjamin. Other Obama NSC alumni, including Hudson and Anna Cave, have joined the Museum’s staff.

The Museum apparently undertook its Syria project without the usual degree of input from Washington’s community of Syrian activists who had worked with the Holocaust Museum to bring the Ceasar files and video from the besieged city of Aleppo to light. Given that the Museum had previously worked hard to expose Syrian government atrocities, members of the anti-Assad community found the counterfactuals report to be curiously out of character for the museum, and objected to the report’s seeming vindication of US policy.

“If the reports are saying that nothing could have been done for Syria, this is something that every Syrian American I know considers grossly incorrect,” Shlomo Bolts, a policy and advocacy officer with the Syrian American Council noted to me. “There was a lot that could have been done and that can still be done to stop the mass atrocities in Syria. There are still thousands of civilians in Syria who are being tortured in Assad’s jails or fear imminent attacks by Assad forces and there is much that can be done to help them.”
The outrage within the Jewish community to this whitewashing study has been so strong that the museum has now removed the study from their website. Isn't it funny that Ben Rhodes is involved in all this. Remember, he's the guy who bragged about deceiving the press and the American people about the Iran deal.