Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cruising the Web

If you pay attention to the law, this was no surprise.
In a victory for the Trump White House, a temporary restraining order to halt the president's pick for acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP), Mick Mulvaney, was denied by a judge Tuesday afternoon.

Judge Timothy Kelly ruled in favor of Trump in his effort to appoint White House budget director Mulvaney to lead the bureau, the nation's top financial watchdog agency.
Appointments for heads of agencies, even interim directors, are in the purview of the president, not an outgoing appointee. It was a ludicrous claim.

And now we learn this
Secret donors are financing the lawsuit against President Donald Trump and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney over who runs the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Deepak Gupta, the lead lawyer of a boutique law firm that launched its suit on behalf of CFPB acting director Leandra English, confirmed in a CNBC interview that English is not paying for his hourly fees, but rather unknown anonymous donors are.

Gupta refused to name who is funding the lawsuit, making it difficult to ascertain the motives, intentions, or any special interests of those underwriting the case.
How is it that someone who claims that she is the interim director of a government agency has anonymous donors paying for her challenge? Given that the agency oversees banks and businesses, there could be some conflict of interest involved with a secret donor. Probably there isn't one, but how would we know? It all sounds very iffy. But then this whole kerfuffle was fishy.

Jonathan Adler wrote earlier
about why he thought that the President's case would prevail.
However the district court rules on this initial filing, I expect that the administration’s position will ultimately prevail. Whichever side has the strongest statutory argument, the textual claims are close enough that I suspect broader separation-of-powers concerns will come into play and tilt the case in favor of the executive branch.

...I suspect that a majority of the court will feel uncomfortable with the CFPB’s novel structure (a structure already found unconstitutional by a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit in a case recently reheard by the en banc court).

This discomfort is only likely to be magnified by English’s central claim: that Cordray could place the vast powers of the CFPB in the hands of someone who was never named or confirmed by either the president or the Senate, and that there’s nothing (short of getting a new CFPB director confirmed) that the president can do about it. This would take agency independence to a new level. (It would also raise other constitutional questions relating to the validity of the English appointment and whether Trump could remove her that I suspect this court — and the chief justice in particular — would like to avoid.)

Even if one believes that English has the better of the textual argument, it is anything but a slam dunk. For this reason, I suspect the broader separation-of-powers concerns would push the court to conclude that the president’s authority under the VRA [Vacancies REform Act] remains intact. It’s one thing to argue that the president cannot remove the CFPB’s director except for cause. It’s quite another to maintain that the CFPB director can leave office and name his or her own successor.

Charles C. W. Cooke has a hilarious thread on Twitter comparing the divisions at the CFPB to the Glorious Revolution and subsequent Jacobite rebellions in English history.

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The Seattle Times has a fascinating look at what cities are offering Amazon in order to win Amazon's second planned headquarters. There are a total of 238 offers. Danny Westneat, a columnist at The Seattle Times, has looked through the 30 proposals that are public. Some of the proposals go overboard in what they're willing to offer the company.
Example: Chicago has offered to let Amazon pocket $1.32 billion in income taxes paid by its own workers. This is truly perverse. Called a personal income-tax diversion, the workers must still pay the full taxes, but instead of the state getting the money to use for schools, roads or whatever, Amazon would get to keep it all instead.

“The result is that workers are, in effect, paying taxes to their boss,” says a report on the practice from Good Jobs First, a think tank critical of many corporate subsidies.
Color me shocked that Chicago would make such a shady offer that would effectively set up a two-tiered system for taxpayers: those who work for Amazon and everyone else. And is it even legal to turn over tax money to a private business?

Other offers promise free land and to hold off on property taxes or to just give Amazon a bunch of money if they'll come. But other proposals aren't so normal.
But the most far-reaching offer is from Fresno, California. That city of half a million isn’t offering any tax breaks. Instead it has a novel plan to give Amazon special authority over how the company’s taxes are spent.

Fresno promises to funnel 85 percent of all taxes and fees generated by Amazon into a special fund. That money would be overseen by a board, half made up of Amazon officers, half from the city. They’re supposed to spend the money on housing, roads and parks in and around Amazon.

The proposal shows a park with a sign: “This park brought to you by Amazon,” with the company’s smiling arrow corporate logo.
Think of that - a private company controlling how tax money would be spent. It sounds very suspect to me.
Is it even legal to give a company direct sway over civic spending like that?

When asked about it, Fresno’s economic-development director threw the public interest under the bus.

“Rather than the money disappearing into a civic black hole, Amazon would have a say on where it will go,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Not for the fire department on the fringe of town, but to enhance their own investment in Fresno.”

You poor fools out on the fringe of town. All this time you’ve been paying your taxes, thinking it was for the broader public good. Suckers.

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Oz Katerji reminds us of the leftist intellectuals who made excuses to deny tales of genocide in Bosnia and now are doing the same thing in Syria. You might remember this cover of TIME from 1992.
The man in the picture, Fikret Alic, became a symbol of the atrocities that the Bosnian Serbs were perpetuating against non-Serbs in Bosnia. However, a writer for a far-left magazine, LM (Living Marxism) accused the picture has phony that had "fooled the world" because it wasn't a concentration camp, but a "collection center for refugees" and that people could leave anytime they wished. The British ITN TV News company that had taken the picture sued for libel and won a big award.
However this was not the end of the story. The reporters involved in the fraudulent LM article refused to back down, and they were defended by high profile individuals such as celebrated left-wing academic Noam Chomsky.

In a 2006 interview, Chomsky reiterated the claim: "It was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted," and in 2011 condemned the libel case against LM, in an email exchange in which he also said that referring to Srebrenica as an act of genocide "cheapens the word."

A book published by Edward Herman and David Peterson called The Politics of Genocide, which claims Serb forces "incontestably had not killed any but 'Bosnian Muslim men of military age'" carries a foreword by Chomsky and an endorsement by Australian journalist John Pilger.

Wednesday, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia concluded that genocide was committed in Srebrenica, and that it had been orchestrated by Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general.

But nobody should be expecting any retractions or apologies from Chomsky or Pilger, men for whom genocide denial has become a point of pride.

Today, Chomsky, Pilger and a slew of other notable left-wing academics, journalists and bloggers are applying this same war-crimes revisionism to the war in Syria.
Seymour Hersh is one of those peddling theories that Assad's regime is not responsible for a sarin gass massacre earlier this year.
While Postol’s theories gets even the most basic facts about the attack wrong and were clearly nothing more than a series of desperate attempts to poke holes in the growing body of evidence collected about the attack, Hersh relies on testimony from one unnamed source that cites the existence of a mysterious rebel munitions depot that Hersh was unable to provide a location for.

These arguments were not only demonstrably false, but lacked any credibility to begin with. However, that didn’t stop the glowing endorsements from Chomsky and Pilger.
Why would these guys think that there is something to gain in doubting tales of genocide? And why does anyone listen to Chomsky any more?

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John Podhoretz analyzes why Nancy Pelosi violated her supposed believe-the-woman position on allegations of sexual harassment against John Conyers.
Pelosi was sending a message to her Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill that when the going gets tough, she’s going to stand with them. We have no idea where the sex-and-power scandal is heading and how many people in Washington are going to be affected by it — especially if you add to it this mysterious payoff system that has already doled out a reported $17 million in settlement money.

Pelosi wanted her members to know she’d defend them even against the indefensible. She has a real shot at regaining the leadership position in the House after the 2018 election, and she’s electioneering to ensure she’ll secure the 218-plus votes necessary to be chosen speaker if Democrats win the majority.
However, as Podhoretz points out using the House Bank scandal that helped the GOP take the House in 1994, she's running a real risk here.
If Joe Sixpack has been sending hard-earned dollars to Washington so that John Conyers can get off (in both senses of the term, I’m sorry to say), he has a right to know about it, know who’s made use of that money and be told why this was considered acceptable. Since it’s almost certainly not, this may go hard on House leaders in both parties.

There’s a precedent here. In 1991, reporters revealed that congressmen had been making obscene use of a facility called the House Bank to secure no-interest loans in the form of cashed checks that wouldn’t bounce no matter how little money was in the congressman’s account.
For a long time, the House Bank scandal was the subject of eye-rolling scorn inside the Beltway — there had been no public money involved, and who cared, really. But it proved an undeniable boon to Republicans in the 1994 midterm election that gave the GOP control of the House for the first time in four decades.

So Pelosi had better take care here. If the slush fund becomes a potent symbol of the diseases generated in the Washington swamp, Pelosi will be in greater danger from it than Paul Ryan, who only became speaker in 2015. She joined the House leadership in 2002.

Conyers isn't the only Democrat accused of sexual harassment that Pelosi has defended or accusations against whom Pelosi has ignored. For all the glorification of Pelosi as such a powerful woman fighting for women, none of that matters when it's a member of her party accused of being a sexual creep. For example:
Former Democratic representative Eric Massa of New York. In 2010, the married Massa resigned amid a sordid sexual-harassment scandal involving young, low-paid male staffers he allegedly lured to his Capitol Hill playhouse for “tickle fights.” Turned out that Pelosi’s office had been informed months before, by a staffer of former Democratic Representative Barney Frank (Mass.), of Massa’s predatory and harassing behavior with multiple congressional employees. Massa’s former deputy chief of staff and legislative director also contacted leading Democrats on the House Ethics Committee. Former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) also knew of Massa’s misconduct. But Pelosi said and did nothing until allegations went public. A toothless House Ethics Committee investigation went nowhere.

“I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors,” she deflected icily.
What about protecting the staff who work in the House? She just doesn't seem so interested in protecting them.
Former Democratic representative David Wu of Oregon. The seven-term liberal congressman had a longstanding history of alcoholism and sexual skeeviness that broke into the public eye when his own staffers revolted against their drunk-texting, Tigger-costume-wearing boss and pressured him to seek psychiatric help. House Democratic leaders, desperate to keep one of their own in office, ignored the pleas. Only after The Oregonian newspaper published allegations by a teenage girl who had complained for months to apathetic Capitol Hill offices of an “unwanted sexual encounter” with Wu did Pelosi make a show of calling for a House Ethics Committee investigation — which went, you guessed it, nowhere.
So the worker bees on Capitol Hill can complain all they want about sexual predations by House members, but Nancy doesn't care until it all becomes public and harms the caucus.

Matthew Walther writes at The Week about the real scandal here
- the taxpayer-provided hush money fund for congressional harassment. As he writes, the country might be sharply divided on partisan grounds, but everyone should agree that this is outrageous and the names should be released and that we shouldn't be using taxpayer funds to pay for their misbehavior.
Itis difficult to think of any information whose disclosure would be more in the public interest than the knowledge that Rep. Blueblazer McEntrepreneurship or Sen. Wokeman Goldflake or trusted members of their respective entourages harassed or even assaulted women. How it ever came to pass that such cases were not made immediately available to the public is one of those extraordinary mysteries that only Washington could produce.

This is not an argument against compensating victims (though as it happens I think we are due for a serious discussion about the benefits of a system that allows those with money to paper over accusations again and again, obscuring what should be an obvious pattern) but against the absurd idea that elected officials are like employees of a major corporation, one with certain responsibilities to employees that ultimately fall upon shareholders. Today's elected officials are not stolid Ciceronian statesmen in a constitutional republic; they are professional fundraisers, people who glad-hand and beg for a living. They have plenty of money, and like the rest of us, they should be responsible for paying for their own crimes. Even if it's not sitting there in the campaign coffers, surely their paymasters on Wall Street can be counted on. Sexual harassment in Congress is an open secret. Surely for the donor class the spiritual and emotional well-being of a few score women have long been regarded as the price of securing tax cuts or seeing their preferred financial regulations passed.
I think that public disgust is going to force a bipartisan bill to make the names public and change the system. Anyone who votes against such a bill will be accused of having something to hide. If no one truly knows which congressmen have made use of the fund, each party will be voting blind in the hopes that there are more from the other party. Well, let's know who they were and throw them all out.