Monday, November 20, 2017

Cruising the Web

Ross Douthat has a confessional column in the NYT about Bill Clinton. He admits that he was never a Clinton-hater and never understood why Republicans disliked him so much. He writes that he's spent the past week reading about Clinton and his scandals.
But a moment of reassessment is a good time to reassess things for yourself, so I spent this week reading about the lost world of the 1990s. I skimmed the Starr Report. I leafed through books by George Stephanopoulos and Joe Klein and Michael Isikoff. I dug into Troopergate and Whitewater and other first-term scandals. I reacquainted myself with Gennifer Flowers and Webb Hubbell, James Riady and Marc Rich.

After doing all this reading, I’m not sure my reasonable middle ground is actually reasonable. It may be that the conservatives of the 1990s were simply right about Clinton, that once he failed to resign he really deserved to be impeached.
He still doesn't like the Republicans of the 1990s or Ken Starr, but he's more disgusted about Clinton's behavior and how defending him twisted the Democratic Party.
The sexual misconduct was the heart of things, but everything connected to Clinton’s priapism was bad: the use of the perks of office to procure women, willing and unwilling; the frequent use of that same power to buy silence and bully victims; and yes, the brazen public lies and perjury.

Something like Troopergate, for instance, in which Arkansas state troopers claimed to have served as Clinton’s panderers and been offered jobs to buy their silence, is often recalled as just a right-wing hit job. But if you read The Los Angeles Times’s reporting on the allegations (which included phone records confirming the troopers’ account of a mistress Clinton was seeing during his presidential transition) and Stephanopoulos’s portrayal of Clinton’s behavior in the White House when the story broke, the story seems like it was probably mostly true.

I have less confidence about what was real in the miasma of Whitewater. But with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, we know what happened: A president being sued for sexual harassment tried to buy off a mistress-turned-potential-witness with White House favors, and then committed perjury serious enough to merit disbarment. Which also brought forward a compelling allegation from Juanita Broaddrick that the president had raped her.

The longer I spent with these old stories, the more I came back to a question: If exploiting a willing intern is a serious enough abuse of power to warrant resignation, why is obstructing justice in a sexual harassment case not serious enough to warrant impeachment? Especially when the behavior is part of a longstanding pattern that also may extend to rape? Would any feminist today hesitate to take a similar opportunity to remove a predatory studio head or C.E.O.?

There is a common liberal argument that our present polarization is the result of constant partisan escalations on the right — the rise of Newt Gingrich, the steady Hannitization of right-wing media.

Some of this is true. But returning to the impeachment imbroglio made me think that in that case the most important escalators were the Democrats. They had an opportunity, with Al Gore waiting in the wings, to show a predator the door and establish some moral common ground for a polarizing country.

And what they did instead — turning their party into an accessory to Clinton’s appetites, shamelessly abandoning feminist principle, smearing victims and blithely ignoring his most credible accuser, all because Republicans funded the investigations and they’re prudes and it’s all just Sexual McCarthyism — feels in the cold clarity of hindsight like a great act of partisan deformation.

For which, it’s safe to say, we have all been amply punished since.
I've always thought that the Democrats made a mistake by sacrificing the high ground on such charges by lining up behind Bill Clinton even when it became clear that he had lied to the country and his cabinet. They could have voted to remove him and replaced him with Al Gore. Gore would probably have had a much easier time in 2000 running as the incumbent and the history of this century would have been quite different. Hillary wouldn't have been elected to the Senate (unless she left Bill) and without Bush, would there have been the backlash that led to Obama? Without Hillary, we wouldn't have had Trump since I think she was the only Democrat who could have lost to Trump. It's all rather amusing to ponder how history would have been different.

Jonah Goldberg objects to the revisionism o
f those on the left who pretend that they didn't really know what a cad Bill Clinton was. They knew and they celebrated his behavior. He was just mischievous, fun-loving ol' Bill going against the "sexual McCarthyites" on the right.
In the 1990s, liberals knew about Bill Clinton’s cheating ways. Bill and Hillary basically conceded the truth of it in a 60 Minutes interview in the wake of the Gennifer Flowers story. Oh, they denied her specific allegation in Clintonian fashion. Bill was a genius at sounding like he was telling the whole truth when he was really telling a mincing, legalistic lie. (Bill later admitted, under oath in 1998, that he had been knocking boots with Flowers). Regardless, Bill and Hillary spoke in obvious code that their marriage was . . . flawed. And all of the commentary at the time was, “We get it. That’s good enough.”

Joe Klein’s Primary Colors, a thinly veiled novel about Clinton, was a sensation with liberals, none of whom objected to, or questioned, the premise that the Bill Clinton character had an affair.

After the Lewinsky scandal broke, very few liberals not in the employ of the Clintons — or otherwise dependent on, or fearful of, them — acted as if they didn’t believe the allegation. They celebrated it! There were exceptions; I remember Cokie Roberts and David Broder being horrified. But among cultural liberals — writers, Hollywood types (particularly the Weinstein crowd), etc. — the motivating passion was celebration, not denial. Jack Nicholson cheered Clinton: “What would be the alternative leadership — should it be somebody who doesn’t want to f**k?” Nicholson added, “Bill, you’re great. Keep on!”

Read this article from the New York Observer — if you can stomach it — titled, “New York Supergals Love That Naughty Prez.” They covered all the weighty issues, e.g., is oral sex cheating? And would you do him? “The consensus, as [Erica] Jong expressed it, was that a Presidential ‘f*ckabout’ was far better than a ‘fascist pig’ like Kenneth Starr.” The “only person who minds that Bill Clinton’s having sex without being in love,” said Elizabeth Benedict, “is Ken Starr.” Susan Shellogg, a former dominatrix, offered the only substantive criticism: “I think the President is reckless for not practicing safe sex if she has stains on her dress. She was not using a condom. That’s a big story.”

....Now, not all of these people excused, say, Juanita Broaddrick’s utterly plausible claim that Bill Clinton raped her. But one reason they didn’t was that NBC News kept that allegation secret throughout the impeachment hearings because they believed it was true.
Goldberg goes on to detail how the left threw away their record on fighting sexual harassment in order to protect their Bill.
During the latter half of the 1980s and the tail end of the Bush presidency, feminists and their liberal allies had worked tireless — and sometimes fanatically — to fight sexual harassment, very broadly defined. They pelted — rightly — Senator Bob Packwood from the public stage. They derailed Senator John Tower’s nomination to be secretary of defense on the grounds that he was a “womanizer.” Even entirely consensual sexual relationships between powerful male superiors and subordinates were inherently exploitative, they argued. Hence, Clarence Thomas’s alleged overtures were out-frick’n-rageous according to liberals.

And then they threw it all away to defend Bill Clinton. His “affair” with Lewinsky — hardly his only extramarital affair, according to 8 katrillion rumors spread off-camera by liberal journalists — was suddenly just an attempt to “connect” with another person. Never mind that he couldn’t remember her name and led on a naïve intern. The Big He was a lovable dog, and anyone who had a problem with that was the problem. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t take off his jacket in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton literally took off his pants in it.

As John Podhoretz notes on the Commentary podcast, Maureen Dowd raked the Clintons over the coals for their shabby dealings and scandals for years. But when the issue turned to Bill’s “sex life,” suddenly she mounted the parapets to defend him against the Comstock Ken Starr.

Why? Well, part of it was simply the corrupting nature of power. Donald Trump is not the first president to benefit from a standard-bending cult of personality. In fact, they all have benefitted from this dynamic to one extent or another.

But there’s another factor that hasn’t gotten any attention these days as far as I can tell. American liberalism in the 1990s was shot through with a kind of anti-Christian panic. They didn’t put it in those terms, of course, but it poured out between the lines even when phrased differently. All of the tedious op-eds about Salem and The Crucible, the snide references to Ken Starr’s faith, the lazy dot-connecting between the Christian Right and the “persecution” of Bill Clinton: It was everywhere.

The rising obsession with sexual liberation married to hatred of “scolds” and judgmental traditionalists simply swamped everything else. Gloria Steinem set fire to her integrity and minted the “one free grope rule” in the New York Times. Katie Roiphe, also in the Times, celebrated Monica as a go-getter who used her sexuality to her advantage.

Anyone who objected to this garbage was a “sexual McCarthyite,” as Alan Dershowitz put it in his book Sexual McCarthyism. Indeed, as I noted at the time, the corruption didn’t just rot the present, it poisoned the past.
And now some Republicans have absorbed the same who-cares attitude when accusations appear about one of their heroes. Donald Trump was elected despite very credible accusations of his groping women and he was caught on tape bragging about it. Yet the same sorts of people who were shocked and disgusted by Clinton's behavior decided to turn a blind eye to his immorality. And quite a few Alabamians have adopted the same attitude toward Roy Moore. We've become an ugly place when political advantage trumps principle. Principled consistency has truly become the hobgoblin of little minds.

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As Michael Graham writes for CBS News, Bill Clinton set the predicate for Donald Trump.
Imagine Judge Roy Moore's campaign using the phrase "bimbo eruptions" to describe his accusers.

Imagine his top adviser saying of one of the women he allegedly groped, "Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there's no telling what you'll find."

Imagine a journalist saying she'd allow Judge Moore to fondle her "just to thank him for being pro-life." And keeping her job. (Ironically, in the 1998 Mirabella magazine essay by the Time correspondent who fantasized about Bill Clinton, there was also this: "The richer and more famous they are, the less appealing. Donald Trump? Ugh.")

Imagine prominent feminists suggesting that the girls he allegedly groped were asking for it -- "it sounds to me like she put the moves on him," Susan Faludi conjectured. Betty Friedan declared, "Whether it's fantasy, a set-up or true, I simply don't care."

Well, for those of us old enough to remember the Clinton presidency, we don't have to imagine it. We lived it.

In many ways, Bill Clinton was the Donald Trump of his era. Trump is accused of coarsening our political discourse. Bill Clinton was accused of the same. He pushed cultural boundaries by admitting he smoked pot (with the notoriously weaselly claim: "I didn't inhale") and answering the question "Boxers or briefs?"

....Twenty-four years after Clinton's first election, America elected another president who faced sex scandals many believed would doom his campaign: Multiple women accused Donald Trump of inappropriate contact, and the infamous tape of his locker-room talk with Billy Bush caught him talking about it. And like Clinton before him, Mr. Trump dismissed, denied and obfuscated…and got away with it. How?

In part, that's because so many of his supporters still remember the pass Bill Clinton was given in the 1990s. They remember how Hillary Clinton, who was part of the "bimbo eruption" war room, was declared a feminist hero at the same time she was disparaging powerless women who'd been victimized by her husband. She dismissed Monica Lewinsky as "a narcissistic loony tune."

They remember the press defending Clinton and ignoring his victims. The Washington Post, for example, declared "By just about any standard but, apparently, his own, the President pretty plainly lied under oath in a court proceeding and repeatedly in public and private thereafter." But they also supported Clinton, despite the fact that his lying was part of an effort to deny a female victim of sexual harassment, Paula Jones, her day in court.

And so some Alabama voters ask: Why should we care more about the behavior of Donald Trump—or Roy Moore—than feminists, liberals and the media cared about the behavior of Bill Clinton?
And the next time there is a sex scandal about a Democratic politician, that politician's supporters can ask the same question of Republicans - why should they care when they didn't care about Trump or Moore? This is the road we've all headed down.

While what Al Franken is accused of doing doesn't rise to the level of what Bill Clinton did, he is still accused of forcing a kiss on a woman and then joking about groping her while she was asleep. And there is a photo to prove what he did. He could have laughed off the story as a simple misunderstanding about what he meant with the kiss, the more serious accusation, but the photo makes the story both more believable and more odious. But the Democrats are already rounding the wagons to prepare to accept Franken back in their good graces after he abases himself a bit more. But, as Kyle Smith writes, they'd be much better off letting him go just as they would have been better off cutting loose from Bill Clinton.
Should Moore make it to the Senate, Democrats will be able to cast Republicans as the party of sex creeps only if they expel Franken. Every time Moore’s name is mentioned, the response will be, “What about Al Franken? And by the way, what about Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy?”

True, in a certain sense this isn’t fair. What Moore probably did is worse than what Franken admitted doing. But politics isn’t fair. Whataboutism and crying hypocrisy aren’t very strong moral arguments, but they’re easy to make and they’re emotionally satisfying. And a photograph of obvious wrongdoing simply carries more salience than a verbal allegation — even if the allegation is credible and even if the behavior alleged is worse than that seen in the photo.

Democrats who just this week were saying they would no longer tolerate Bill Clinton–type behavior can prove it. They can make a clear break with the past by saying no more sexual misbehavior will be tolerated, even by beloved party members. They could then leverage that moral clarity in 2018 to seek the votes of the married women who are wary about the liberal agenda but might be persuadable. Instead, they’re protecting their own. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand either can position herself as America’s leading tribune for women victimized by sexual assault or she can support keeping Franken in the Senate, but not both. Her initial gambit — his apology isn’t enough but “I expect to hear more” from Franken — is insufficient. What more is there for Franken to say now that he has admitted guilt and apologized? The Democrats are creating a three-word weapon with which the GOP will never stop beating them over the head: What. About. Franken.

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Diversity has a very specific politically-correct meaning at Apple where they just fired their diversity chief for speaking out about a different kind of diversity that they're definitely not interested in.
Apple’s diversity chief is stepping down after only six months on the job — after causing an outcry by saying that being a minority or a woman are not the only criteria for diversity, according to reports.

Denise Young Smith, who was named vice president of diversity and inclusion in May, made controversial comments last month during a One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia.

“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” the inaugural diversity chief said.

“Diversity is the human experience,” she said, according to Quartz. “I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.”
She was forced to apologize and lost her job. Of course. Diversity of thought is meaningless for those who see diversity only in terms of race, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.

The WSJ notes
that the GOP's efforts to trim or eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes is making New Jersey's governor-elect rethink his campaign promise of increasing the tax on millionaires that he campaigned on.
The Republican tax reform must still pass the Senate, but already it’s having a political impact in at least one high-tax, ill-governed state. Democrat Steve Sweeney, president of the New Jersey Senate, said last week that the GOP decision to eliminate the state and local tax deduction could throw a new tax increase on millionaires into doubt.

The surcharge on millionaires is a hardy perennial in Trenton, and Governor Chris Christie vetoed it multiple times. But Governor-elect Phil Murphy, who is already rich from his Goldman Sachs days, campaigned on a special tax rate of 10.75% above the state’s already high top income-tax rate of 8.97%.

“I’ve voted for it seven times. I’ve said it’s a top priority,” Mr. Sweeney said, according to the Observer Online. “But I’m actually getting very, very nervous now with what’s happening in Washington.”

Excellent news. Making politicians in Trenton, Albany, Sacramento and Springfield nervous about raising taxes is one desirable outcome of tax reform. These politicians have been passing the burden of their tax-and-spend policies onto taxpayers in other states via the state and local deduction. If that goes away, Democrats will have to rethink their policies lest they drive from their states the affluent taxpayers who finance most of state government....

Here’s a radical idea: Cut taxes and make New Jersey more desirable for people to work and invest. Tax reform in Washington could also spur reform in the states.

I knew that the overlap of Donald Trump and LaVar Ball in one story could mean nothing good. Trump wanted the UCLA players to thank him for his efforts to get them out of China. They obediently did so. But LaVar isn't having anything to do with giving Trump credit. In fact, he rejects the idea that LiAngelo did anything bad by shoplifting in China. Now Trump is ticked off that LaVar isn't sufficiently grateful, writing on Twitter,
“Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!”
Apparently, Trump thinks that his job is to garner praise for doing what is really his job - to help protect American citizens overseas. Apparently, he thinks that only if one expresses gratitude to him personally are you worthy of his help. He clearly wasn't taught the lesson that most children are taught - that you do something because it's the right thing to do, not for any extrinsic reward. Dang, he's immature.

THough, as Mary Katharine Ham points out, the three UCLA players are not unique in having been helped by Trump. She reminds us of Americans who were being held in places such as Egypt, China, and Venezuela and who hadn't been helped by Obama, but whom Trump was able to help.
By contrast, the more clinical and professorial Obama took the opposite approach, and in his most high-profile deals to get Americans back, got completely hosed in the trades. For all the complaining about Trump’s symbolic giveaways of American approval to unsavory regimes, which is a real concern, no deal for American prisoners he’s made has required the material giveaways Obama allowed.

For the return of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, praised by the Obama administration as serving with “honor and distinction,” Obama released five Taliban operatives, all considered high-risk for return to terror activities. Bergdahl has since been dishonorably discharged after being courtmartialed on charges of desertion and endangering troops.

Americans held in Iran, a pastor and journalist among them, were famously not part of the official deal-making with Iran on its nuclear program, subordinated as so many American priorities were to keep the regime at the negotiating table. Instead, the administration did a secret deal with Iran to release Americans, which ended with the administration unloading pallets of cash for the Iranians at the precise moment Americans were released and laughably claiming it was not a ransom.

The administration also released seven Iranian-Americans and dropped charges against 21 other fugitives as part of the prisoner swap that accompanied the cash payment, kneecapping its own Department of Justice’s National Counterproliferation Initiative by hampering and slow-walking ongoing investigations without informing those in charge of the investigations.

The Washington Posts has interviewed some escapees from North Korea about what life is like there under Kim Jong Un. It's just heart-rending. For example,
here is what one doctor said.
The salary for doctors was about 3,500 won a month. That was less than it cost to buy one kilogram of rice. So of course, being a doctor was not my main job. My main job was smuggling at night. I would send herbal medicine from North Korea into China, and with the money, I would import home appliances back into North Korea. Rice cookers, notels, LCD monitors, that kind of thing.
Here are what some schoolchildren remembered about school in North Korea....

It’s like a religion. From birth, you learn about the Kim family, learn that they are gods, that you must be absolutely obedient to the Kim family. The elites are treated nicely, and because of that they make sure that the system stays stable. But for everyone else, it’s a reign of terror. The Kim family uses terror to keep people scared, and that makes it impossible to stage any kind of social gathering, let alone an uprising.
A seven-year old: I learned songs about the general and about the Kim family and how great Kim Il Sung was.

Another seven-year-old: We got gifts on Kim Jong Un’s birthday: candy and cookies and gum and puffed rice. I was so grateful to him for giving me all these sweets. We would stand up in class and say, “Thank you, General Kim Jong Un.”

A university student: We had ideological education for 90 minutes every day. There was revolutionary history, lessons about Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un. Of course, they taught us about why we needed nuclear weapons, and they would tell us that we needed to make sacrifices in our daily lives so they could build these weapons and protect our country, keep the nation safe. I was so sick and tired of hearing about all this revolutionary history, I was so sick of calling everyone “comrade.” I didn’t care about any of that stuff....

The secret to North Korea’s survival is the reign of terror. Why do you think North Korea has public executions? Why do you think they block all communications? Why do you think North Koreans leave, knowing that they will never see their families again? It shows how bad things are. All our rights as people have been stripped away.
Read the rest of the piece. It's a whole nation of prisoners.

One such prisoner recently escaped to South Korea. A soldier guarding the North Korean side of the DMZ broke across the line and was shot up by North Korean soldiers as he raced through the DMZ. When South Korean doctors treated him, they discovered dozens of parasites in his intestines including a foot-long roundworm.
“I spent more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, but I have not found parasites this big in the intestines of South Koreans,” Lee Cook-jong, who leads the team treating the soldier, told the Associated Press....

But the worms pulled from his intestines tell a story of the humanitarian and health crisis gripping North Korea even as it expends significant resources in its effort to become a global nuclear power.

According to, North Korea spends 22 percent of its gross domestic product on the military. Other public spending priorities have suffered, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has built and tested his nuclear arsenal while also trading radioactive barbs with Western leaders.

A Newsweek headline put it more succinctly — and brutally: “North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is starving his people to pay for nuclear weapons.”

According to a report by the United Nations, 2 in 5 people in North Korea are undernourished. Seventy percent of people require food assistance to survive, including 1.3 million children below the age of 5.

And the food they have access to can sicken or kill them. According to the New York Times, many North Korean defectors to the South have shown up infected with parasites.

That’s partially because North Korea lacks chemical fertilizer, and many farmers rely on human excrement to fertilize fields. As a fertilizer, “night soil” is free and abundant — and even made a cameo appearance in “The Martian.”

But it’s notorious for transmitting parasites like the ones inside the North Korean defector’s stomach.

In a 2014 study, South Korean doctors checked a sample of 17 female defectors from North Korea and found seven of them infected with parasitic worms, according to the BBC. They also had higher rates of other diseases, including hepatitis B and tuberculosis.

Finding worms inside a soldier who once guarded one of the most scrutinized borders in the world is especially telling, a sign that North Korea’s food woes affect military members, who typically have a higher ranking on the food-rationing list. There are even reports that North Korean soldiers have been ordered to steal corn from farmers to stave off hunger.

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Deals in Home and Kitchen writes up one of the insidious ways that governments have found to make money.
A couple of cities in the California desert have found a novel and remarkably cruel way to make money—force citizens to pay for the privilege of being prosecuted by the attorneys contracting with these cities.

We've seen cities across the country abuse their own citizens—particularly its poorest residents and visitors—with vicious enforcement of petty laws designed to create a revenue stream via a cascade of fines and fees.

But I don't think we've seen an enforcement mechanism as nasty and cruel as the one the Desert Sun has uncovered out in California's Inland Empire. The cities of Indio and Coachella partnered up with a private law firm, Silver & Wright, to prosecute citizens in criminal court for violations of city ordinances that call for nothing more than small fines—things like having a mess in your yard or selling food without a business license.

Those cited for these violations fix the problems and pay the fines, a typical code enforcement story. The kicker comes a few weeks or months later when citizens get a bill in the mail for thousands of dollars from the law firm that prosecuted them. They are forcing citizens to pay for the private lawyers used to take them to court in the first place. So a fine for a couple of hundred dollars suddenly becomes a bill for $3,000 or $20,000 or even more.

In Coachella, a man was fined $900 for expanding his living room without getting a permit. He paid his fine. Then more than a year later he got a bill in the mail from Silver & Wright for $26,000. They told him that he had to pay the cost of prosecuting him, and if he didn't, they could put a lien on his house and the city could sell it against his will. When he appealed the bill they charged him even more for the cost of defending against the appeal. The bill went from $26,000 to $31,000.
It's just despicable. And it all comes about from a very suspicious coordination between the city government and the law firms tasked with recovering the money. Cheers to the Desert Sun for researching this story and reporting on it. This is what good journalism is.

Here's another stupid state action to recoup money from student loans.
Fall behind on your student loan payments, lose your job.

Few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work.

As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans. Going after professional licenses stands out as especially punitive.

Firefighters, nurses, teachers, lawyers, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists and real estate brokers have all had their credentials suspended or revoked.
How are they supposed to pay back their loans if they've lost their ability to make a living. It would be better to garnish their wages for a monthly sum then to throw them out of their jobs. It sounds like the modern version of sending people who couldn't pay their creditors to debtors' prison where they had no hope at all of repaying their loans.