Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Cruising the Web

So our long, national nightmare of the past weekend is over. It does seem as if the Democrats decided that the shutdown wasn't playing as well as they thought it would and so, as Aaron Blake writes in the Washington Post, they caved. Blake points to Democratic senators like Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein complaining that Schumer hadn't gotten more from McConnell.
To be clear, most Senate Democrats wound up voting to reopen the government. They did so after a deal was struck in which Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was assured that the Senate would vote on some kind of immigration deal by Feb. 8 — and if they didn't have a deal, there would be an up-or-down vote on DACA, the program protecting the children of illegal immigrants from deportation. Just 16 of the 49 members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted no, and it's a group that is full of potential 2020 contenders like Harris who have a clear interest in appealing to the base.

But that's also the point. Those members have made appealing to the Democratic base their raison d'etre, and they've quickly wagered that this thing isn't going to fly with that same base. The base was cheering Democrats for taking a stand on behalf of so-called dreamers and demanding that they be protected; instead, Schumer has merely been assured of a vote on something to-be-determined that may or may not succeed.
So they punted on an issue that it seems there is little agreement already. Blake continues,
What's clear is that on the very first day of the shutdown on which the federal government was actually supposed to be open, Democrats pretty quickly took a deal that was well shy of what they were demanding. They seemed to be losing leverage as Republicans like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) who had opposed the continuing resolution seemed to be warming to it, and if just a few Democratic senators followed suit, the whole thing would have blown up.

And really, from the start of this process, Democrats have overestimated both their leverage and the benefit that might arise from this whole situation. Early polls — before the shutdown actually occurred — showed more Americans blaming Trump and the Republicans than Democrats. But Democrats actually provided the votes against the noncontroversial continuing resolution that meant government shut down. Their argument was always much more difficult, and Republicans messaged the “blame game” more effectively.
Gee, that never happens. The Democratic message was so weak that even Republicans had better messaging. Sometimes, reality is a better message for the Republicans than the Democrats realize. We've never seen the Republicans win the blame game on a government shutdown.

It's very telling that the Democratic senators thinking about running in 2020 voted against the agreement shows how they're catering to their base and activists, much like Ted Cruz was doing in 2013 when he filibustered the budget.

Ben Shapiro summarizes what each side gained from the shutdown.
So, what did Democrats get from this shutdown?

Here’s the full list: the perception that Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had outlasted them at the negotiating table; the understanding that Democrats will be unable to fight Republicans using a government shutdown as leverage, at least on the issue of illegal immigration; the impression that Democrats care more about illegal immigrants than military members; a Democratic base that now believes the Democrats are on the run; the impression that Democrats were responsible for the shutdown.


What have Republicans gained?

They’ve gained the perception that they can govern; combined with the tax cut bill, Republicans in Congress have done their job and forced Democrats into a position of irrelevance. Furthermore, the White House now says that it will not sign the Graham-Durbin proposal, a Senate bill to legalize illegal immigrant children and their parents, and hand citizenship to the kids.
Now that the Democrats have signalled that they won't want to tie the budget to DACA three weeks from now, they're going to have to negotiate a separate bill on DACA> And given that this is where they've ended up, the real question is why they didn't agree to that last week instead of all this sturm und drang over shutting down the government.

As they turn now to debating a DACA bill, John Fund argues that the Democrats are worried that attention will shift from talking about the so-called Dreamers to talking about "chain migration."
Even staunch pro-immigration voices increasingly recognize that emphasizing family reunification through chain migration shouldn’t be the heart of our immigration policy. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a prominent pro-immigrant voice for decades, and his co-author Clint Bolick wrote back in 2013:
Since the 1960s, the vast majority of legal immigrants have come pursuant to a very broad definition of “family reunification” — which includes not only spouses and minor children but parents and siblings. Family preferences account for two-thirds of all legal immigrants.
Bush and Bolick point out that the lack of an effective and rational work-visa system similar to the one that Canada and Australia use has cost this country in several ways. First, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page points out, it creates an unbalanced immigration flow: “It makes sense to focus on uniting nuclear families with dependent children rather than extended families.” Second, it has contributed to a polarizing immigration debate because Americans can’t accept that a doctor from Greece can’t immigrate here while a cab driver from Guatemala who is someone’s cousin can. Right now, only one in 15 of the more than 1 million immigrants who are admitted every year are given a visa because of their job skills or entrepreneurial ability. And third, the focus on family unification, and the resulting lack of a rational work-visa program, means that for most aspiring immigrants, their only choice is the arbitrary “diversity lottery” whereby visas are awarded randomly to 55,000 foreigners. As Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick point out, “there are roughly 250 applicants for each [diversity] visa every year. The absence of a meaningful avenue of access increases the pressure for illegal immigration.”

It’s because Democrats fear that bringing these facts to light in a debate over Dreamers that they are trying to run away from the term “chain migration.”

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This is how tough the government shutdown had gotten.

This is your Senate at work,
ladies and gentlemen. A group of two dozen senators met to try to end the shutdown.
To try and keep the peace, Collins wouldn't let any senator in the room talk unless they were holding a "talking stick" — which a senator in the room described as a "ceremonial Native American stick" that Collins owned. At one point, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee forcefully tossed the stick toward Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia after Warner interrupted him, nearly shattering a glass elephant belonging to Collins, according to two people briefed on the throw. After that incident, Collins suggested using a small rubber ball, and Alexander also brought his own basketball "because it’d be safer than a stick," an aide said.
Next they'll get a conch shell.

If the rumors are true that Trump is exploring ways to get rid of General Kelly as chief of staff, then Trump is even more clueless about governing than I had thought. Reportedly, Trump is furious that Kelly went on Fox News and seemed to show disrespect to Trump's position on immigration saying that it has "evolved" and that Trump was uninformed when he promised to build the wall. All true, but of course Trump can't stand hearing the truth if it makes him look bad. And Trump can't stand that people respect Kelly as the "grown-up" in the administration.
Trump’s anger at Kelly’s immigration comments is the latest flare-up in a relationship that has been deteriorating for months. A four-star marine general, Kelly was never going to be an easy fit in a West Wing with a Lord of the Flies office culture. Staffers have bristled at Kelly’s rectitude, nicknaming him “the Church Lady,” a former official said.

Trump has increasingly been chafing at the media narrative that he needs Kelly to instill discipline on his freewheeling management style. “The more Kelly plays up that he’s being the adult in the room—that it’s basically combat duty and he’s serving the country—that kind of thing drives Trump nuts,” a Republican close to the White House said. In recent days, Trump has fumed to friends that Kelly acts like he’s running the government while Trump tweets and watches television. “I’ve got another nut job here who thinks he’s running things,” Trump told one friend, according to a Republican briefed on the call. A second source confirmed that Trump has vented about Kelly, mentioning one call in which Trump said, “This guy thinks he’s running the show.” (A White House official said “it’s categorically false that Trump is unhappy with Kelly. “He’s only ever referred to him as the general, tough, can be rough, and commands respect.)

Kelly, in turn, has expressed frustration with Trump’s freewheeling management style and habit of making offensive statements. In August, when Trump incited outrage with his Charlottesville comments, Kelly complained to a colleague that he was “holding it together.” The next month, cameras captured Kelly’s infamous facepalm at Trump’s U.N. speech when Trump called Kim Jong Un “rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.” The New York Times reported that Kelly has threatened to quit numerous times.

Trump, for his part, is frustrated that he’s not getting more credit for positive news like the booming stock market and low unemployment numbers. In recent days, he told a longtime friend that the national polls, which put his approval numbers in the low 30s, are under-representing the real number. Trump insisted his approval rating is in the high 50s. The friend challenged him, but Trump didn’t want to hear it. He soon ended the call.
It's always a problem when an aide becomes well-known. Presidents like to be portrayed as the ones in charge and making all the tough decisions. So any good press that Kelly earns is going to annoy Trump. But if Trump thinks that bringing in someone else who will be more obsequious to him is what he needs, he's an idiot. Reportedly, Kelly has straightened out a lot of the inner-office mess that characterized the administration before he brought in Kelly. Maybe if Trump wouldn't tweet and say outrageous things that distract from the good news that Trump is frustrated the media aren't talking about, he would get the attention on the economy that he is looking for.

All those foreign leaders who have such contempt for Trump now have a reason to be grateful to him and the Republicans in Congress.
The International Monetary Fund warned policymakers to be on guard for the next recession even as it predicted global growth will accelerate to the fastest pace in seven years as U.S. tax cuts spur businesses to invest.

The fund raised its forecast for world expansion to 3.9 percent this year and next, up 0.2 percentage point both years from its projection in October. That would be the fastest rate since 2011, when the world was bouncing back from the financial crisis.

The strengthening recovery offers a “perfect opportunity now for world leaders to repair their roof,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told reporters Monday in Davos, Switzerland where the World Economic Forum is meeting. “Growth in our view needs to be more inclusive.”

About half of the IMF’s global upgrade stems from the Republican tax cuts passed in December and enacted this year. Cuts to the corporate tax rate will give the world’s biggest economy a shot in the arm, lifting U.S. growth to 2.7 percent this year, 0.4 point higher than the fund expected in October, the IMF said Monday in an update to its World Economic Outlook. Projected U.S. growth was the highest among advanced economies.

Philip H. DeVoe comments,
While the IMF estimates that the tax cuts will spur growth until 2022, it stressed that this would change if the individual cuts and other elements of the law set to expire were allowed to do so. As it stands now, the IMF predicts global growth will be lower than had been forecasted beginning in 2022 and for a few years onward.
All the more reason to get Congress to vote on extending the cuts.

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This is pretty sleazy behavior.
Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement.

A married father of three, Mr. Meehan, 62, had long expressed interest in the personal life of the aide, who was decades younger and had regarded the congressman as a father figure, according to three people who worked with the office and four others with whom she discussed her tenure there.

But after the woman became involved in a serious relationship with someone outside the office last year, Mr. Meehan professed his romantic desires for her — first in person, and then in a handwritten letter — and he grew hostile when she did not reciprocate, the people familiar with her time in the office said.

Life in the office became untenable, so she initiated the complaint process, started working from home and ultimately left the job. She later reached a confidential agreement with Mr. Meehan’s office that included a settlement for an undisclosed amount to be paid from Mr. Meehan’s congressional office fund.
Meehan is on the House Ethics Committee, the committee that is investigating sexual misconduct against other contressmen. So, knowing that he had this episode in his own personal history, he didn't speak up and recuse himself from the committee? If this hadn't been leaked, he'd still be judging accusations of sexual misconduct against his colleagues. Stories like this are why people have such contempt for Congress.

John Sexton looks at accusations reported in The Guardian about sexual harassment and assault at the United Nations.
The United Nations has allowed sexual harassment and assault to flourish in its offices around the world, with accusers ignored and perpetrators free to act with impunity, the Guardian has been told.

Dozens of current and former UN employees described a culture of silence across the organisation and a flawed grievance system that is stacked against victims.

Of the employees interviewed, 15 said they had experienced or reported sexual harassment or assault within the past five years. The alleged offences ranged from verbal harassment to rape.

Seven of the women had formally reported what happened, a route that campaigners say is rarely pursued by victims for fear of losing their job, or in the belief that no action will be taken.

“If you report it, your career is pretty much over, especially if you’re a consultant,” said one consultant, who alleged she was harassed by her supervisor while working for the World Food Programme. “It’s like an unsaid thing.”
Things don't go well if these women report what has happened to them.
Three women who reported sexual harassment or sexual assault, all from different offices, said they had since been forced out of their jobs or threatened with the termination of their contract in the past year. The alleged perpetrators, who include a senior UN official, remain in their posts.

One of the women, who alleges she was raped by a more senior UN staff member while working in a remote location, said: “There are no other options to get justice, and I have lost my job too.”

She said that despite medical evidence and witness testimonies, an internal investigation by the UN found insufficient evidence to support her allegation. Along with her job, she says she has lost her visa and has spent months in hospital due to stress and trauma. She fears she will face persecution if she returns to her home country…
But, hey, the UN always has time to condemn Israel and vote against the U.S. moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

This is what happens under Sharia Law in Indonesia.
A woman and her partner were publicly whipped for getting "too close" to each other just days before their wedding.

The shocking public punishment took place in Aceh, Indonesia.

Closeness is seen as a step towards pre-martial sex which is against Sharia Law and as a result the couple each received 20 lashes, in front of gathering crowds.

The pair were among a group which were brought forward for public punishment on a makeshift stage outside a mosque on Friday.

An Indonesian Christian was also whipped for selling alcohol in the conservative province of Aceh.

Islamic law also forbids selling and consuming alcohol and Jono Simbolon was arrested in October and sentenced to 36 lashings.

As a masked officer whipped his back with a rattan stick the man could be seen grimacing in pain in front of the jeering crowd.

After 10 of the lashings a doctor was brought in to check on Simbolon - but he gave the go-ahead for the whipping to continue.

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I thought women were the same as men intellectually and it was outrageous to suggest that there was any difference in their abilities to do science or math. Larry Summers lost his position at Harvard for just saying that perhaps that was something to be looked at. James Damore was fired from Google for saying that perhaps there were reasons other than discrimination for there to be fewer female applicants in engineering. But then we see a story like thos about Oxford University.
Oxford University has extended time for maths and computer science exams in a bid to help women get better grades.

Undergraduates were given 105 minutes to complete their papers, rather 90.

There was no change in difficulty or the length of questions and female students were said to do better as a result.

Dons trialed the changes to allow women to achieve higher results, with just seven female maths finalists achieving firsts last year compared with 45 men.

The proposals were put forward to reduce the 'undue effects of time pressure' which the prestigious university believe effects [sic] women more than men, reports the Sunday Times.
They explain the need for extending time by saying that women are more likely to check over their answers which slows them down while men answer more quickly, but also make more mistakes.

Neat-o! Two new Van Gogh drawings have been found.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Cruising the Web

Politico looks at the difficulty the media are having in deciding whom to blame for the shutdown. Should the Democrats be blamed for blocking passage of the continuing resolution or should Republicans be blamed because they control both houses and the White House. Or should they try for some nuanced coverage blaming both sides? Perhaps it's just easier to write analyses talking about how both parties are trying to blame each other. Some reporters don't see to understand how Congress works. For example, CNN's tedious Jim Acosta asks, “How can it be the Schumer shutdown when the Republicans control the White House, the House, and the Senate?” Fox's Shep Smith and CNN's Chris Cillizza made the same point that we can't call it the "Schumer shutdown" when the REpublicans control everything.

My AP Government class just finished covering the unit on Congress and they'd read about the "Sixty Vote Senate" so I asked them what they thought about those statements by three national reporters. They all raised their hands immediately because they could see the fallacy right there and knew that it would take Democratic votes to pass any kind of bill. If 10th graders understand that, why do well-paid reporters pretend that that fact doesn't exist. And such statements ignore that there is nothing in the bill that they oppose. And it does include the funding for CHIP which the Democrats all support. As John Sexton writes,
I don’t think Acosta is too dumb to understand what is happening here, I think he’s just too partisan to care. And you can bet he and Shep Smith won’t be the only talking heads spouting this same line all weekend (or however long the Schumer shutdown lasts). It’s not that they are ignorant it’s that they know a lot of people watching them are. They are running with this dopey Facebook-meme journalism because there is a big market for it right now.

It doesn't help that the Democrats spent the 2013 shutdown saying the exact opposite of what they're saying now. Back then it was the Republicans who were demanding to attach changes to Obamacare be attached to the continuing resolution and prominent Democrats were absolutely horrified. Now the positions are reversed.
A quick search of the Congressional Record reveals what former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had to say about shutting down the government in 2013:

"House Republicans should think long and hard about what is at stake and who would be hurt by a government shutdown. Each of us, all 535 Members of Congress, were elected by the American people to serve them, and the American people deserve better than a government that lurches from crisis to crisis caused by a handful of people. American families deserve a government that works for them, not against them." -Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), October 1, 2013

"And why? To extract political concessions through hostage-taking over one issue--one issue--ObamaCare." -Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), October 1, 2013

"If they have problems with that bill, we will be happy to sit down and talk with them about a reasonable approach. But we are not going to do it with a gun to the heads of the American people." -Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), October 1, 2013< "Open the government by putting a clean continuing resolution funding bill on the floor." -Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), October 1, 2013 "That is how a budget works, how appropriations works, and how our government is run. But to take an extraneous issue and to say unless we get rid of it, they are going to shut down the government, no way." -Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), October 1, 2013 "Because to only talk while the government is shut down does huge damage to millions of innocent people and to our country's economy. They forgot to say: Let's vote. Then let's talk. Their motto should be modified." -Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), October 4, 2013 "We are not in an 'Alice in Wonderland' world, where those who advocate shutting down the government then accuse others of shutting down the government." -Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), October 4, 2013

Amazing how things change when they're on the other side. And then there is this.

For those who haven't been paying attention to what led up to the shutdown, Allahpundit runs through how this all came about.
First offer from Republicans: Let’s fund the government and pass a DREAM amnesty, as both sides want to do, and in return you give us some concessions on chain migration and the wall. Republicans have no choice but to use DREAM as leverage for those concessions despite their support for the policy because Democrats are incredibly reluctant to tighten admission policies under the best of circumstances. So how about a little something in return for DREAM, in the name of compromise? Nope, says Schumer. Won’t do it. We’ll give you a few billion in mad money for border improvements but we’re not doing anything that might move the U.S. towards skills-based criteria for immigrants and away from “bring the whole family!” policies.

Second offer from Republicans: Okay, since we’re stuck on a DREAM deal, let’s table the whole immigration issue for now and instead agree to fund the government and extend CHIP long-term, as both sides want to do. We’ll come back to DREAM afterwards when we’re not facing a hard deadline. Nope, says Schumer. Won’t do it. The amnesty fanatics in my base refuse to let us sign on to any funding deal that doesn’t include DREAM. Even though not only is DACA still in effect, the feds are letting enrollees renew their enrollments.

Third offer from Republicans: Okay, since Democrats are hung up on amnesty and worried about voting for a bill that doesn’t include it, let’s temporarily change the rules so that they don’t have to vote for the bill at all. Last night McConnell asked for unanimous consent from the Senate to let Republicans pass a funding bill with 50 votes instead of the 60 that the filibuster requires. It’s not at all certain that he has even 50 votes right now, but he was willing to take full responsibility for the bill’s passage via his caucus alone. If he found the votes he needed, the government would stay open without any Democratic assent to the DREAM-less bill. Nope, said Schumer. Won’t do it. He objected to the motion for unanimous consent. McConnell still needs 60, all but ensuring a shutdown.
Mitch McConnell's tweet here sums up the Republican argument.

And then there are amusing moments like this.
Democrat House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) was laughed at on Friday after he contradicted himself in the span of less than a minute and then was blown out in a vote on the House floor.

Trying to avoid a government shutdown, Hoyer stated, "I believe we should stay here and do our work."

"What is your motion?" asked the Madam Speaker.

Hoyer replied, "I motion to adjourn."

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I've been learning a bit about government shutdowns. I hadn't realized that every president since Ford has presided over shutdowns except for George H.W. Bush. So the talking point that never before has there been a shutdown when the same party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House is just wrong since there were several shutdowns when Carter was president and the Democrats controlled both houses.

Something else I learned was that a failure to fund the government didn't mean that the entire government had to shutdown.
Before some 1980 and 1981 opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, a failure to fund some part of the government didn't necessarily mean that that part of government would stop functioning. Civiletti's opinions interpreted the Antideficiency Act, a law passed in 1884, as meaning that a failure to pass new spending bills required government functioning to shut down in whole or in part. So the "shutdowns" listed below that happened between 1976 tand 1979 did not always entail an actual stop to government functioning; they were often simply funding gaps that didn't have any real-world effect.
Hey, why doesn't someone reinterpret that ruling and save us all this annoyance.

It also seems that a government shutdown isn't as ominous as it sounds, especially without Obama's administration doing everything they could to make the shutdown inconvenience as many people as possible. You'll still get mail. You'll get Social Security checks, but new applicants' forms won't be processed until after the shutdown. Some national parks will still be open, especially the open-air ones. Museums and monuments will be closed. National security and law enforcement would still carry on. You might be able to get passports for a few days, but then they'll run out of funds. What about the military?
The military gets paid on the 1st and 15th of every month. So the troops just received a paycheck, and they wouldn't be due for another one until Feb. 1. That means military personnel would not suffer a lapse in pay unless a government shutdown lasted until the end of the month — or longer. Fort Campbell officials said a shutdown would likely involve the furlough of some civilian government service employees.
What do you bet that they'll get things fixed up before they have to delay the paychecks for the armed forces?

Meanwhile, people will realize that a government shutdown doesn't affect them much at all. In fact, the one effect that might have broken through to people was the original fear that military forces abroad wouldn't be able to see the conference championship games on Sunday because American Forces Network would be shut down. The Pentagon fixed that up.
On Saturday, reports surfaced that the American Forces Network would be unable to broadcast the league’s conference championship games on Sunday because it was considered one of many non-essential government programs to be shut down after Congress failed to reach a budget deal. The news upset many, and the push began to reverse the network’s closure.

AFN Director Col. Dave Honchul tweeted on Sunday morning that “we’ve been given limited services and have brought back two channels ― AFN News and AFN Sports.”

While the network’s staff would normally be furloughed during the shutdown, the AFN’s television and radio broadcasts have been deemed “essential” services.

The Department of Defense determined that despite the shutdown, “the operational necessity of television and radio broadcasts constitutes them as essential activities,” Dana W. White, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement to HuffPost.
Well done. Amazing how that all worked out, isn't it? And, as I suspected the NFL was eager to help out.
The NFL stepped in on Saturday to offer free NFL Game Pass streaming accounts to USO facilities worldwide.
When people want to fix something, they can figure it out. It's only politicians who can't manage to do that.

The WSJ contrasts
the 2013 and 2018 shutdowns.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney vowed on Friday that this shutdown “will look very different than it did under the previous Administration” and “we are not going to weaponize it.” The White House is being true to its word as it scrambles to minimize the inconvenience to the public and government workers to the extent it can under the law.

This includes letting agencies use money that has been appropriated but unspent to be used for urgent purposes. Most of the Environmental Protection Agency will stay open, trade negotiations will continue, and about half of all mine inspectors will stay on the job compared to only 25% or so in 2013.

A specific case in contrast is the Interior Department, which runs the national park system that the Trump Administration is trying to keep “as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures,” spokeswoman Heather Swift said Friday. Tourists can still visit Washington, D.C.’s parks and war memorials, and visitors won’t be blocked from hiking many national park trails. The National Park Service will close areas only if there’s a safety risk or to protect cultural artifacts.

By contrast, the Obama Administration acted fast to block and lock down parks and public lands. On the eve of the 2013 shutdown, Park Service spokeswoman Jennifer Mummart emailed colleagues about a scheduled World War II memorial visit by aging or terminally ill veterans. She asked whether “we are physically preventing people through use of some barrier to gaining access? (jersey barriers, fence, tape, saw horses or something)?”

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Karen Cucurullo replied, “Yes, signs and barricades.” The next day Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson was at the memorial and ready to make a political point as the 91 veterans arrived. “This is so meaningful to the vets,” she told the press. “The main thing is we’d like to get back to work and welcome visitors again.” The veterans were able to visit the memorial only after Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo and others moved the barriers, defying signs announcing the site’s closure.

On Sept. 30, 2013, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard wrote to National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis, offering to keep Mount Rushmore open using state personnel and resources. Mr. Jarvis shut down Mr. Daugaard and the monument. “Beyond the legal constraints involved, it would not be feasible or appropriate to open some parks or some parts of parks while other parts of the National Park System remain closed to the public,” the director replied on Oct. 3.

Unlike in 2013, this time Interior is looking into how state funding or private donations can be used to keep parks and sites open despite the shutdown. Privately operated gift shops, concession booths and gas stations on public lands will be allowed to open. In 2013 Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a private company that operates hotels, restaurants and other services in 21 national parks, lost about $1 million each day of the shutdown.

Shutdowns usually end when one side or the other begins to fear the political damage, but Democrats seem to think they can’t lose a blame game. One way for the public to judge is to look at who is trying to exploit it for political advantage, and this time it isn’t the Trump Administration.

Oh, this will work well in enticing businesses to California.
A pair of California lawmakers want to claw back some of steep tax cuts that corporations will receive under the federal tax overhaul signed last month by President Donald Trump.

Democratic Assemblymen Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Phil Ting of San Francisco announced Thursday that they will pursue a constitutional amendment to add a surcharge on large companies that do business in California, potentially raising billions of dollars to expand social services for Californians.

“We’ve seen enough billionaire justice from the presidency,” McCarty said in an interview. “It’s time for middle class tax justice.”

Trump’s plan reduced the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, which Republican and business leaders hailed as an incentive for a surge of capital investment and job growth. But Democrats denounced the change as a giveaway to the wealthy that would grow the national debt and require future cuts to welfare programs such as Medicaid.

The proposal from McCarty and Ting creates a new tax for businesses in California, which already has a state corporate tax rate of 8.84 percent. Companies with annual net income of more than $1 million in California would pay an additional surcharge of 7 percent, or half their savings from the recent federal tax cut.
Don't these Democrats have any sense of what influences businesses when they make decisions about where to locate?

Here's a victory
for conservative web sites.
Google says it is discontinuing its fact-check feature because it proved to be too faulty for public use, directly attributing the decision to an investigation by The Daily Caller News Foundation. The company has no date set for when it will return, if ever....

There were two main problems with the fact-check widget, which appeared on the sidebar of Google’s search results for very few sites and publications.

First, the legitimate outlets chosen were virtually all ones with conservatives audiences. The Daily Caller, for example, was given such treatment, while sites like Vox, Slate, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones and several others clearly on the left side of the political spectrum were not.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, many of the fact-checks were wrong. One of the purported reviewed claims was for an article that straightforwardly reported that yet another member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team was a donor for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama.

Google attributed the fact-check to The Washington Post, something it’s vice president of communications took issue with.

Governor Cuomo is considering imposing congestion pricing on driving in New York City.
Motorists would have to shell out $11.52 to drive into the busiest parts of Manhattan under a new proposal floated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ease traffic congestion and raise vital funds for mass transit.

Trucks would pay even more — $25.34 — while taxi cabs, Uber rides and for-hire vehicles would be charged between $2 and $5 per ride. The pricing zone would cover Manhattan south of 60th Street.

The idea, called “congestion pricing,” involves using electronic tolling to charge vehicles for entering certain parts of town during especially busy times. The proposal is expected to face stiff opposition in the Legislature, which must approve portions of the plan. Similar proposals have failed before after concerns were raised about the impact on commuters.
Isn't it marvelous how Democrats have a selective understanding of how financial disincentives can influence human behavior. They are fine with assuming that fewer people will drive in NYC if the price is too high. But they don't seem to understand how raising the minimum wage might influence employers to hire fewer people or that lowering corporate taxes might lead businesses to expand their businesses.

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Elizabeth Warren's hometown paper, the Boston Globe, writes about how her claims to be a Native American will continue to be a problem for her and she'll need to address those questions if she wants to run for the presidency. She's not going to get away with just saying that she was repeating "family lore." The Republicans will surely castigate her for trying to advance by pretending to be a Native American. And several Native American groups are not amused.
And, more telling, there’s also discomfort on the left and among some tribal leaders and activists that Warren has a political blind spot when it comes to the murkiness surrounding her story of her heritage, which blew up as an issue in her victorious 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. In recent months, Daily Show host Trevor Noah mocked her for claiming Native American ancestry and the liberal website ThinkProgress published a scathing criticism of her by a Cherokee activist who said she should apologize.

As Warren is mentioned as a serious presidential contender in 2020, even some who should be her natural allies say Warren has displayed a stubborn unwillingness to address the gap between the story she was told of Native Americans in the family tree and a dearth of hard evidence to back it up.

It’s a disconnect that has lingered unresolved in the public sphere for more than five years.

Warren says she grew up understanding that forebears in her mother’s family had Cherokee and Delaware blood. But examinations by genealogists of documents including birth, marriage, and death records have shown no conclusive proof of Native American ancestry.

While it may be easy to dismiss Trump’s continued Twitter attacks as bigotry, which has been Warren’s response thus far, the view of her more sympathetic critics is that she is leaving herself vulnerable by not clearing the air in a definitive way. Their fear is that the issue could act as a drag on her profile as she considers whether to seek the Democratic nomination for president.

“From a strategic perspective, taking the live step of taking responsibility and an apology, even while noting that it was not her intention to harm anyone, is important,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic polling firm TargetSmart. “Will that change votes? I don’t think that doing so will lose her votes.”

If Warren seeks to tackle the issue, there are no easy options. Some tribe members want her to apologize to Native Americans for claiming heritage without solid evidence. Tribes across America have spent centuries denouncing whites who claim Indian DNA without a clear basis, claims they find deeply offensive.

Another path includes pursuing stronger outreach to the tribes with whom she claims to share kinship, a strategy that she’s begun to employ. This too is fraught, as some Native American leaders are resentful that she’s done, in their estimation, little to help tribes as a powerful senator.

“She’s not part of the Cherokee community,” said Chad Smith, who was the principal chief of the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation from 1999 to 2011. “She hasn’t reached out. She hasn’t come here and participated much.”

“The mark of value in claiming heritage is: Do you use your position to give back?” Smith said. “If it is a claim that is valuable to her, she should be helping Indian country. She might be doing it with the overall agenda. But unless she’s contributing back, it is a somewhat hollow claim.”
It's fine when she can set herself as a foil to Trump, but at some point, Trump will go beyond calling her "Pocahontas" to explain why he calls her that and she'll have to answer. It would help Trump if, instead of "Pocahontas," he used what Republicans have used for her - "Fauxcahontas." That makes more sense with the accusations against her. I doubt that she'll do anything to address the allegations other than what she's said now - that she just assumed that the family lore was correct and that she never tried to use the claim to advance her career although there are indications that universities where she worked used her supposed status to tout their minority hiring. However, those who were on the committee to hire her at Harvard deny that her supposed ancestry ever came up. I'm not sure how dispositive that is. Plenty of employers might note a candidate's ethnicity as a plus, but never actually discuss it or bring it up. But it is cloudy enough for her to probably get away with what she's already been saying and just hope that Native American groups will keep quiet.

If you're still getting telemarketing phone calls even though you put your name on the Do Not Call List and you're irritated every time you get the call, you find ithis story very interesting about how robo-callers have basically ignored the Do Not Call list and gotten away with it. The robo-callers are basically thumbing their noses at the FTC.
Jones, it appears, didn’t really care about getting caught. The same goes for the rest of the robo-calling industry. The financial rewards of bothering people on the telephone are clearly greater than the risks. “We continue to bring cases and shut down as many folks as we can,” says Janice Kopec, the FTC’s point person on robo-calls. “What we recognized, though, was we shut down an operation and another one springs up behind it almost instantaneously.” Hence our modern scourge. In 2015, the call-blocking app YouMail estimated that close to a billion robo-calls were being placed every month. Two years later, that number has leapt to 2.5 billion. At best, these calls annoy. At worst, they defraud. By far, they constitute the top consumer complaint received by the FTC.

In theory, there is a fix: the National Do Not Call Registry, created in 2003. Today, 230 million numbers are on it. The point, obviously, is to not be called. And yet the FTC receives 19,000 complaints every day from list members who have, in fact, been called. There is a battle being waged over the inviolability of our telephone numbers — over the right to not be bothered. On one side there is Mike Jones and his robot army. On the other side, there is the federal government and its list. It is clear who’s winning. But why?
Read the rest; it's interesting and frustrating how weak the FTC is.
The bottom line is that the problem has become too sprawling to litigate. The FTC is like a commercial fisherman trying to use his bare hands. “What the robo-call problem prodded us to do,” Kopec says, “was to recognize that there has to be a technical piece to this solution as well.” Less reactive policing, more proactive call-blocking. Unfortunately, it couldn’t do that either. “The FTC is largely a civil law enforcement agency. We have a whole lot of attorneys, and a whole lot of economists, and a few technologists,” Kopec explains. “We don’t have the expertise.”
I wish they could figure this out and then I'd like the FTC to get on all the email spammers that I get every day that seem to get around gmail's spam provisions.

Newsbusters examines a NYT story about a Trump nominee to be the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education. Critics don't like that the nominee, Kenneth L. Marcus, the founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, for being opposed to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement as anti-Semitic.
Human rights groups also expressed concern that Mr. Marcus will use his office to further a more narrow agenda: combating the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement on college campuses, which he believes has devolved into violent, anti-Semitic harassment.
Apparently, supporting Israel against its opponents is now a disqualifying factor for a nominee. Opponents are still upset that Betsy DeVos wants to protect the due process rights of students. The horror of protecting the rights of students. It's a topsy-turvy world when supporting Israel and student rights are now regarding as disqualifiers for public service.

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This might qualify as one of the silliest academic papers of the year. An Australian professor has written about the problematic dangers of small chairs in classrooms for young children.
Such furniture can haunt individuals, and they symbolize “the undervalued nature of teaching young children,” Jane Bone writes in her recent article published in the journal Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood.

“Chairs, as objects that furnish human lives, can also haunt those lives and give contradictory messages of power, comfort and suffering,” the senior lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne writes in the abstract of her paper, “Ghosts of the material world in early childhood education: Furniture matters.”

She continues: “Now and to come, the chair is a trace, a symbol, an instrument of torture and object of desire.”
Sounds like an Onion spoof, doesn't it?

This doesn't give us confidence in our cybersecurity.
A teenager who bragged about gaining access to the accounts of senior US intelligence officials was annoyed at the "corrupt and cold-blooded" American government, a court has heard.

Kane Gamble, 18, targeted high profile figures such as then CIA chief John Brennan and deputy director of the FBI Mark Giuliano between June 2015 and February 2016, from his family home on a Leicestershire housing estate.

Gamble founded the group Crackas With Attitude (CWA) which went online to claim responsibility for the attacks on numerous email and phone accounts.

Several sensitive documents were reportedly obtained from Mr Brennan's private inbox, including a 47-page application for top-secret security clearance....

Gamble also gained access to the FBI's Law Enforcement Exchange Portal, using Mr Giuliano's credentials.

Prosecutor John Lloyd-Jones QC told a sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey: "Kane Gamble gained access to the communications accounts of some very high-ranking US intelligence officials and government employees.

"The group incorrectly have been referred to as hackers. The group in fact used something known as social engineering, which involves socially manipulating people - call centres or help desks - into performing acts or divulging confidential information."

Gamble also used an anonymous Twitter profile to talk to journalists.

Mr Lloyd-Jones said: "He told a journalist, 'It all started started by me getting more and more annoyed at how corrupt and cold-blooded the US government are. So I decided to do something about it'."

To gain his victims' personal details, Gamble impersonated them, fooling employees at companies such at Comcast and Verizon to divulge personal details.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Cruising the Web

The WSJ reminds us what always happens when there is a government shutdown.
Washington is going through one of its hoary melodramas with the threat of a partial government shutdown at 12:01 Saturday morning if Congress doesn’t pass a funding bill. These are usually worth ignoring, but in this election year we are likely to see more such showdowns. So it’s important to understand the rule of shutdown politics: Democrats want a shutdown but Republicans will get blamed for it.

This has been roughly true in every shutdown brawl we’ve watched going back to the 1980s. It doesn’t matter if a Republican is President with a Democratic Congress, or vice versa, or if Republicans run both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Sometimes Republicans deserve the blame, as they did with Ted Cruz’s kamikaze run for ObamaCare repeal in 2013. But even if they work in good faith to avoid a shutdown, the media blame Republicans, and many voters figure the GOP must be at fault because it’s the party that prefers smaller government.

Democrats understand this and they use it as political leverage. That’s what’s going on this week behind the scenes as Republicans struggle to put together a budget that can get past the Freedom Caucus in the House but also get at least nine Senate Democrats to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

Democrats don’t want to take yes for an answer. GOP leaders want to negotiate a two-year budget deal separate of negotiations over immigration. But Democrats are refusing, though the date when new work permits will no longer be issued to the so-called Dreamer immigrants is the first week of March.

Democrats are refusing even though the tentative budget deal being hashed out behind the scenes would also give them a big increase in new domestic non-entitlement spending over two years. Republicans would get more defense spending. Such a deal will give more Republicans heartburn on the policy merits, but Democrats still won’t accept.
Sadly, it's all about politics. And as long as Democrats think that they will benefit from a shutdown, we'll face a shutdown.
The reason is simple: Democrats think a shutdown will improve their chances of retaking the House and Senate in November. Everything they do, every decision they make, is a political calculation with that in mind. Thus supposedly grave moral choices like children’s health care and legal status for immigrants are more important as political battering rams than as policy accomplishments. Dysfunction is desirable because Republicans are nominally in charge and will get the blame.
As long as this is the perception of the Democrats, the government will be held hostage. And if the media continue to serve as the Democrats' handmaidens, it will probably be true that people won't pay attention to the details and they'll just see that a government where the GOP control the White House and both houses of Congress, they'll blame the Republicans. The fact that Democrats' votes are necessary to get anything through the Senate will be one of those obscure details that no one will pay attention to. I just wonder how it will play in red states where Democratic senators are running for reelection if ads start being run saying, "The Republicans wanted to pass a budget to fund the military and children's health insurance, but Claire McCaskill voted instead to shut down the government. Is that the sort of leadership that Missouri wants?"

The WSJ makes a good point
coming off the Democrats' recent victory in the Wisconsin state Senate where a Democrat defeated an incumbent in a seat that Republicans had held for 17 years. The WSJ connects that victory to the case before the Supreme Court about gerrymandering in Wisconsin.
Democrats say the victory could augur a wave election in November, and Republicans are right to be worried as voters sour on Mr. Trump’s tempestuous behavior. But we hope the Justices on the Supreme Court are paying attention because this Democratic rout contravenes the complaints Democrats made at the High Court last fall that Republicans have drawn legislative districts with such exactitude that Democrats can’t win.

In Gill v. Whitford, Wisconsin Democrats argued that partisan gerrymanders resulted in the GOP winning a disproportionate number of legislative seats relative to their statewide vote and thus prevented them from translating their votes into representation. They claim this violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment right to association.

But unlike gerrymandering by race, partisanship is neither a defined nor inhered identity. Politics can change on an individual and district-wide level from election to election. Democrats offered political-science mumbo-jumbo called the “efficiency gap” to supposedly prove discrimination. Under this model, any votes that don’t contribute to a candidate victory in a legislative race are deemed “wasted.” But Wisconsin’s results refute this since many of Ms. Schachtner’s 12,000 voters would have been considered wasted during prior Republican routs. A map’s efficiency gap will vary by election, so any standard would be arbitrary....

Democrats didn’t mind gerrymanders that helped them keep power in the House for 40 years before 1994, but now they want courts to help them overturn maps that help Republicans. The legal threat in Gill v. Whitford is that the Justices will make judges the arbiters of legislative redistricting that usurps the political branches and injects courts even deeper into partisan politics. This is anathema to the Constitution’s separation of powers.

The real solution is to win elections, as Democrats showed on Tuesday and may continue in November. Winning state legislative majorities would put them in a better position to redraw maps after 2020. You can bet they’d be as partisan as Republicans.

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Salena Zito ponders the resentment she perceives among so many of our liberal elites for middle America. She bases our observations on what several members of the liberal elite in the media, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood have expressed their contempt for people who live in small towns and rural areas. For example,
Two days earlier Melinda Byerley, founder of a Silicon Valley-based tech startup that does “free-range, artisanal, organic, customized marketing” with “Birkenstocks-on-the-ground expertise,” tweeted her expert opinion on Middle America’s jobs-`attraction problem.

It wasn’t very nice.

First she said Middle America needs to realize “no educated person wants to live in a s- -t-hole with stupid people,” which is why she said more big corporations don’t move to the Heartland: “Those towns have nothing going for them,” with “no infrastructure, just a few bars and a terrible school system.”

Educated people such as herself wouldn’t live in rural areas because they won’t sacrifice their superior tolerance and diversity to do so. Nor do her highly educated friends want to live in states where the majority of residents “don’t want brown people to thrive.”
Perhaps these sorts of attitudes are not representative of what most people think and they're the exception. It's hard to tell. I know when I was living in Los Angeles in graduate school at UCLA and my husband got a job in Raleigh, N.C. and I told my friends that we were moving here, the general response was pity. They just couldn't imagine living in a southern state. At the time Jesse Helms was the senator from North Carolina and that was the prism through which my California friends viewed the entire state. When I told them that the county we were moving to had more PhD's per capita than any other county in the country, they were dumbfounded. They just couldn't imagine so many educated people living in North Carolina. What I've often thought since then is that it was a shame that they had no idea what a wonderful place this is to live and bring up a family. That thought never entered my mind about Los Angeles.

As Zito writes, so many in that flyover country are just sick of being regarded as ignorant bigots.
Regular folks have had enough. Less ambition doesn’t make them lesser Americans, yet that’s exactly the way they’re treated. Arrogant liberal elites take this personally, because they interpret it as a critique of the sacrifices they’ve made to get to where they are.

The left-liberal pundit class loves to hear stories of rural Americans who moved to the big city and look in their rearview mirrors with shame and trepidation, like their small-town upbringing is a skeleton in their closet. What they can’t abide is average Americans’ pride.

In a similar vein, Jonah Goldberg wonders why we look to actors to be our moral guides. He points out that we've gone from how actors have traditionally been regarded as a contemptible profession peopled by people of low morality and honesty to regarding them as human beings somehow gifted with a higher moral sense than hoi polloi.

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An article from last year by CATO reminds us of what a terrible person Joe Arpaio is and why no Arizona Republicans should support him in the Senate primary.
Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for blatantly disregarding the orders of a federal judge. This was not a close case. In fact, Arpaio openly bragged that he would refuse to comply with the judge’s orders. The orders in question were designed to stop Arpaio from violating the Fourth Amendment rights of Arizona’s Latino residents with mass racially based roundups on the mere suspicion that those targeted might be undocumented immigrants. In fact, two different federal judges found against Arpaio’s office, citing constitutional violations that were “broad in scope, involve its highest ranking command staff, and flow into its management of internal affairs investigations” and saying that he had “willfully violated” court orders to correct those violations. That’s a far cry from “just doing his job,” as the president claimed.

Moreover, this was hardly the only time that “Sheriff Joe” has shown his disregard for Americans’ constitutional rights. During his tenure as sheriff, at least 160 inmates died from brutality, neglect, suicide, disease, bad health, or old age in Arpaio’s jails. In many cases we have no way of knowing the cause of death, because the sheriff’s office never bothered to investigate.

While Arpaio’s tough methods have won him applause from law-and-order advocates, most of the attention has focused on things like requiring inmates to wear pink underwear or limiting meals to bologna sandwiches. Less publicized are tactics such as forcing women to give birth while chained to their cots. Lawsuits allege that the unsanitary conditions and brutality in Arpaio’s jails resulted in dozens of miscarriages.

And before Arpaio’s supporters respond that those locked up in Arpaio’s jails deserved what they got, we should note that most county-jail inmates are not dangerous felons but people arrested for minor drug offenses or infractions such as drunk driving or failure to pay child support.
Republicans are supposed to care about due process. Caring about law and order doesn't mean denying prisoners their rights and treating them in ways that we would condemn in any other country.

But the Arpaio's candidacy is not the only shameful one this year. Just as Republicans should be embarrassed by Arpaio's presence in Arizona's primary, Democrats should be shamed by Chelsea Manning's running in the Maryland Democratic Senate primary. Graham Hillard sees Manning's candidacy as the Democrats' Roy Moore.
For conservatives who have suffered through Moore, Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, and the current president of the United States, the senatorial campaign of convicted WikiLeaker and “trans” “woman” Manning is nothing less than a dream come true. It’s a chance for Democrats to experience their very own swamp-candidate disaster.

A dilettante as well as a radical, Manning brings to the race no achievements, yet his campaign, at least if one wishes to remain a Democrat in good standing, is distressingly difficult to oppose. Express your disgust with Manning’s unapologetic acts of treason, and you’re a neo-liberal war-monger. Complain that Manning’s only preparation for office is the thousand books he read in prison, and you’re anti-woman. Suggest that, as a human being suffering from acute mental illness, Manning deserves sympathy and (depoliticized) psychological treatment, and you are, quite frankly, a transphobic monster.

No wonder Democratic incumbent Ben Cardin’s response to Manning’s campaign has been utter, terrified silence. To so much as acknowledge Manning’s existence is too great a risk for a professional politician like Cardin to take.

Alas, the media seems determined to prevent the emergence of any narrative that could harm the sitting senator, blandly reporting the facts of Manning’s impending run while remaining conspicuously light on analysis. Imagine for a moment that the politics in question were reversed: that Manning was a felonious embodiment of Trumpism rather than the Left’s anti-Americanism in a miniskirt. MSNBC, I think it’s safe to say, would be setting up chairs at Manning’s rallies. CNN would be spinning off a whole new channel.

Remember this shame
when you hear people praise the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations.
The United Nations became embroiled in one of its worst scandals in 2014 when shocking allegations surfaced that U.N. peacekeepers were raping women and children in this impoverished, war-battered nation.

Today, blue-helmeted soldiers and U.N. staff still rape with impunity despite pledges by U.N. leaders to end the abuses, victims allege.

"I am ashamed of the so-called international community," a tearful Marie-Blanche Marboua said as she described how a U.N. soldier raped her 10-year-old son a year ago in Bouar, 300 miles from this capital city. "My son is still traumatized."

"I have realized that nothing must be expected from these white people," she added. "Now, I put everything in the hands of God.”

The U.N.'s international peacekeeping forces were sent to Central African Republic to stabilize the country after more than a decade of civil war. While there, soldiers sexually abused hundreds of boys, girls and women, according to child rights organizations and the U.N.'s own records....

Even so, the U.N.'s own watchdog said in a June report that while progress has been made, much improvement is needed, including recording complaints and following up on accusations.

Human rights groups dispute claims of fewer assaults, saying the U.N. still does not have an accurate account of abuse victims.

"The U.N. is claiming things are getting better, but it is in complete control over the assessments of people coming forward, said Paula Donovan, a former U.N. official who is co-director of AIDS-Free World, which tracks peacekeeper abuses. "They are police, judge and jury."

The number of victims is far higher than the U.N. reports, said Remy Djamouss, president of the Center for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of Children in Bangui. His group takes the testimonies of children abused by peacekeepers.

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This is what Switzerland
has come to.
Switzerland has followed New Zealand and a few other localities to outlaw boiling live lobsters. It also requires them to be shipped in salt water. Supporters claim that lobsters can feel pain, a dubious prospect, given that they don’t have brains to process stimuli.

But never mind. The Swiss epitomize the world we are creating once we reject human exceptionalism and/or elevate eliminating – as opposed to mitigating — suffering to top societal priority. That can drive policy into surreal regions of misplaced priorities. Consider:

-Switzerland has amended its constitution to recognize the individual dignity of plants. Not ecosystems. Individual plant dignity. A big-brained bioethics committee, assigned to explain the reasons for so doing, stated in its report, “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants,” that since plants share biochemical traits with us at the cellular level, it is immoral to “decapitate” a wildflower. (I kid you not!)

One canton in Switzerland assigns a lawyer to represent animals. One such lawyer sued a fisherman on behalf of a client that became dinner, for taking to long to reel in the fish.

A GMO researcher, seeking to find a way to prevent fungus from spoiling wheat, could only obtain government financing when he asserted that the research would be beneficial for the wheat.
But don't worry. Switzerland allows "suicide tourism."
Switzerland allows “suicide tourism,” through which locals and foreigners attend suicide clinics that charge thousands of dollars to make their clients dead — including joint suicides ofĂ‚ elderly couples and an Italian elderly woman despairing over lost looks. The Swiss Supreme Court has declared a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Cruising the Web

The NYT has a story about how the GOP tax cut is becoming more popular, mostly because Republicans and independents are starting to like it more. What is striking is the partisan differences in those who are expecting to get a tax cut in 2018.

That makes perfect sense. Most of the media have portrayed the tax cut as something that won't affect the middle class. They've totally peddled the Democratic talking points. So Democrats who don't pay much attention to conservative media outlets have been totally snookered into believing that lie. However, if the Treasury Department and IRS estimates are correct that 90% of people will see a tax decrease in their February paycheck, at some point people are going to start noticing that they have more take-home pay.
Under those new tables, the Treasury estimates that 90% of people who get a paycheck are likely to see more in take-home pay, as soon as February. Employers will have until Feb. 15 to incorporate the changes in their payroll systems.
Eventually, people will have to start wondering if, perhaps, the Democrats and media have been misleading them about the "crumbs" from this tax cut.

I know that my daughters, who live in D.C. and don't pay close attention to political news because it's all so irritating and dismaying, were thinking, over Christmas vacation, that neither of them would be getting a tax cut. When they found out that they'd be getting $1,000 or $2,0000 in cuts, it was a very pleasant surprise to them. Do Democrats think that Americans are so oblivious that they don't look at their paychecks and notice when things are different, especially in a good way?

Meanwhile, Armageddon continues to haunt the country.

And they're making this decision based on the GOP tax plan that encouraged companies to repatriate funds back to the U.S.
It said it expects to pay about $38 billion in taxes for the horde of cash it plans to bring back to the United States. This implies it will repatriate virtually all of its $250 billion in overseas cash.

Apple also said it will spend over $30 billion in capital expenditures over the next five years. About $10 billion in capital expenditures will be investments in U.S. data centers, the company said.

Apple added that it will spend $5 billion as part of an innovation fund, up from the $1 billion CEO Tim Cook announced last year on CNBC's "Mad Money."

The job creation will include direct employment and also suppliers and its app business, which it had already planned to grow substantially (app developers earned $26.5 billion in 2017.) The new campus will focus on customer support.

Wednesday's announcement indicates that Apple will still have hundreds of billions of dollars in cash. It could spend that money on buybacks, dividends or acquisitions or moonshot projects.

Such crumbs for our economy.

Just think - Apple's announcement to spend $350 billion over five years is a little under half of the Obama 2009 stimulus bill. That was for over $800 billion to spend over ten years. Isn't it nicer to have that money being spent by a private company than by the federal government picking and choosing where to spend money.

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The LA Times reports on the financial disaster that is the California bullet train project. What a disaster this has been.
The estimated cost of building 119 miles of bullet train track in the Central Valley has jumped to $10.6 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion from the current budget and up from about $6 billion originally.

The new calculation takes into account a number of intractable problems encountered by the state rail agency. It raises profoundly difficult questions about how the state will complete what is considered the nation’s largest infrastructure project with the existing funding sources.
Remember that this estimate is just to build 119 miles in the Central Valley. It doesn't involve the entire state.
It remains unclear how the Central Valley cost increases will affect the total program, which under the 2016 business plan is supposed to cost $64 billion. But the jump in the Central Valley — a 77% increase above the original estimate — suggests the authority and its consultants have vastly underestimated the difficulties of buying land, obtaining environmental approvals, navigating through complex litigation and much else.
Ya think? They haven't gotten to the more difficult parts of the route.
Moore said the surge in costs is likely to foreshadow even greater future increases. On the horizon are more difficult segments, such as the long underground passage through the Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains and the route into the urban San Francisco Bay Area.
Twitchy points out that a big reason for the cost overruns is because they were rushing to spend $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money.
Some of the fresh costs stem from trouble acquiring the rights of way for the track in the Central Valley. The authority entered into construction contracts before fully securing rights of way in all areas, a decision officials said they wouldn’t make again. The decision to enter into contracts quickly was partly due to the need to spend $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money by last fall.
So they rushed to spend $2.8 billion in order to spend $2.5 billion. What wonderful planning! Aren't Californians glad to be on the hook for this boondoggle? And aren't we happy that Obama had federal taxpayers chip in $2.5 billion to help out?

Republicans who have been whistling past the graveyard about their prospects in November saw some results on Tuesday that should really scare them.
Democrat Patty Schachtner beat Republican Adam Jarchow for a western Wisconsin state Senate seat that had been held by a Republican since 2000 and in a district that President Donald Trump won handily in 2016.

Schachtner's win marked the first Republican-to-Democrat switch at the state legislative level of 2018 but it is the 34th state legislative seat pickup for Democrats since the start of 2017. That trend is beginning to rightly alarm smart Republicans.

"Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin," tweeted Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker soon after the race was called on Tuesday.

It's not just Wisconsin. In Virginia, Democrats flipped 15 Republican seats in the November 2017 election. A 16th seat ended tied but Republicans retained control after their candidate won a drawing of lots. In Oklahoma -- not exactly a Democratic-friendly state -- Democrats nonetheless picked up three GOP-held state legislative seats last year. In New Hampshire, two GOP seats flipped in September.
With the augurs looking so dismal for the GOP, expect to hear of more Republicans retiring. Do they really want to serve in the minority in Congress?

Timothy Carney reflects on how Barack Obama "gave us Trump." In the first instance, he chose Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State and supported her nomination. Just think if she'd still been in the Senate, the defeated 2008 contender. Would she still have been the overwhelming frontrunner?
First off, Obama gave the country Trump by first giving the country the least likable Democratic nominee in modern history. Picking her as secretary of state put her in line as his successor. His refusal to pre-endorse Vice President Joe Biden in 2016 basically cleared old Uncle Joe out of the field. Also, Obama left behind a party so impoverished and indebted that party powerbrokers had no choice but to tilt the nominating process toward the corporatist fundraising behemoth that is Hillary. The fact that her campaign was sustaining the party's finances speaks to that.

Biden would have won, and others like Martin O’Malley or Bernie Sanders might have done better than Hillary. But Obama helped give us Hillary, and thus Trump.
Perhaps. But if she hadn't been Secretary of State would she have had other scandals that helped to so tarnish her reputation such as the private server, channeling donations to the Clinton Foundation, and Benghazi? Perhaps she would have had a greater hold on her reputation as the wronged First Lady who had doggedly worked in the Senate with the Republicans who had made her time in the White House so miserable? She might not have been so closely tied to the failures of Obama foreign policy and better able to strike a more independent note. So call that reason a wash.
Secondly, Obama helped Trump win during the campaign by lumping Trump in with all other Republicans. The intention was to make all Republicans seem icky and abnormal; the unintended consequence was to make Trump seem much more normal. In October 2016, when Clinton started posting double-digit leads in Michigan and finally pulled ahead in Ohio, Obama shifted from his tack of saying Trump “sure wasn't conservative,” to the tack of lumping Trump in with all Republicans. In Ohio in mid-October, Obama tried to lump Trump with Rob Portman, a staid and sensible establishment Republican senator. The aftermath: Portman maintained his huge leads, and Trump pulled ahead in Ohio, which he won in a blowout.

Third, and most importantly, Obama’s administration helped Trump beat Hillary, because it scared conservatives into voting for Trump.

Two days after Election Day, as I walked down K Street, I ran into a priest friend. He said he saw Trump’s victory as providing “a reprieve” for the Church. After Obama went to court to force nuns to procure contraceptive insurance for employers, and argued in court for narrower readings of the free exercise clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, religious conservatives were worried about what would come next.

Democratic politicians on the state level were trying to drive Christian florists, photographers, and bakers out of business for following their consciences. The ACLU was suing Catholic hospitals for not aborting babies.

Obama, by weaponizing the federal government against religious institutions and individuals, escalated the culture war to the point that many conservatives realized no peace was possible. They were willing to vote for a man like Trump if that’s what it took to keep HHS and the DOJ from shutting down their schools and businesses. A judge on the Supreme Court who would overturn Hobby Lobby and rule against the Little Sisters of the Poor would leave freedom of conscience mortally vulnerable.

Obama’s culture warfare raised the stakes, and made Trump seem a necessary evil to many religious conservatives, probably enough to flip Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and thus the election.
Perhaps, but that still doesn't explain why many religious conservatives voted for Trump in the primaries when there were quite a few more dependable religious conservatives in the race.

I still think that the main way that Obama gave us Trump was by setting precedents for executive action unbound from what the Congress does. That gave Trump the power to reverse so many of Obama actions. And by allowing and encouraging Harry Reid to employ the nuclear option to get rid of the filibuster for presidential nominations short of the Supreme Court, Obama and the Democrats paved the way for Trump to install a cabinet of people determined to do what they can to reverse the Obama record. And they also prepared the ground for installing Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

Jay Cost argues
that bringing back would not make it easier to pass legislation. The idea is that members of Congress will be more willing to vote for a bill if they can slip in some item that will help them sell themselves to their constituents as the person who can bring home the pork.
There are still several, related problems with earmarks in practice.

The first is a matter of efficiency. Yes, it is true that earmarks are a tool to induce recalcitrant members to support a necessary measure. However, once members realize that their votes can be traded for earmarks, they will start to hold back their support — resulting in a dramatic increase in requests for earmarks. This is a major reason why earmark usage increased rapidly over the course of the 1990s and into the early 2000s: The word was out that votes could be sold. Relatedly, members expect that the subcommittee chairmen of the Appropriations Committee will deny at least some earmarks, so they compensate by making more requests than are actually needed.

Second, there is the problem of wasted time. The legislative calendar is already short, and legislative staff already spread way too thin. The annual deluge of earmarks distracts Congress even more from attending to its weightier duties.

Third, there is the problem of corruption. Earmarks are very difficult to keep track of, as there can be thousands of them that occur outside the typical legislative process. This makes it easy for members of Congress to insert spending that helps their donors or even themselves. Moreover, it is almost impossible to root out corruption like this through legal channels — as the recent cases against Bob McDonnell and Robert Menendez have illustrated. Members almost always can mask their pay-to-play endeavors behind claims that they are acting for the public good. It is therefore prudent to deny them the opportunity in the first place.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, earmarks worsen the tendency for congressional irresponsibility, which they are otherwise intended to ameliorate. The institutional challenge of Congress is that it is a body of members representing 535 local constituencies that is somehow supposed to legislate for the national interest. It is all too easy for members to put parochial concerns over the public good. Earmarks are, in theory, a way around this — but, by distributing spending according to members’ political interests, they actually enhance parochialism, and a very old form of it at that.

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Kay Hymowitz provides some nice historical context to how the fate of immigrants have changed since the heights of immigration in the Gilded Age. Back then many immigrants here were unskilled and uneducated. Most of them were peasants coming for a better life. And there were jobs for them because manufacturing had started to take off in the last quarter of the 19th century. They could come off the boat and find jobs in factories. They weren't great jobs, but for most of them, it was better than where they'd come from.

Two changes in the last part of the 20th century have changed what the U.S. could provide such immigrants. There has been a sharp decline in the number of jobs for unskilled workers. And there has been a steady growth in the amount of government-provided welfare for the poor.
In 1970, blue-collar jobs were 31.2 percent of total nonfarm employment. By 2016, their share had fallen to 13.6 percent of total employment. Today’s immigrants are more likely to be hotel workers, agricultural hands, bussers, janitors, and hospital orderlies. They may be earning more than they could have in their home countries, but their wages—assuming they work full-time—are enough only to keep them a notch or two above the poverty line in the United States. Adding to their troubles is frequently a lack of benefits, unreliable hours, and little chance for moving up the income ladder.

Which takes us to the other crucial shift in immigrant America. In the Ellis Island era, the country took in “the tired and poor,” but it did not—it could not, in those hard-knock times—offer them more than a chance to manage on their own. Private charitable organizations, mostly religious, sometimes kept greenhorns from starving or living on the streets, but there was no Department of Health and Human Services, no state and city welfare offices, no food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, no Department of Education with Title I funds to augment local school budgets, no ESL classes or special education for immigrant children. According to a 2016 National Academies report, immigrant-headed families with children are 15 percentage points more likely to rely on food assistance, and 12 points more likely to rely on Medicaid, than native-born families with children.
Put these two trends together and it should be more understandable why many people would like to incorporate some sort of merit system for immigrants today.
Immigration was part of the nation’s identity not because Americans loved living next to foreigners—few human beings do—or because immigration is a foundational principle of the nation, but because the rapidly growing American economy had a need for unskilled workers, and offered them an opportunity for advancement.

And there’s the rub. Postindustrial economies create a far more challenging path to upward mobility than the manufacturing economy. Unlike during the later industrial era, when even high school dropouts could get decent employment, education is now the most likely route to middle-class comfort and relative stability. Though as a group the number of foreign-born kids graduating college has grown faster than native-born, the children of low-skilled immigrants, particularly Latinos, are struggling. Instead of climbing the income ladder, they are slipping down. Between the second and third generation, Hispanic high school dropout rates go up and college attendance declines. Canada, Australia, and several other countries have introduced a points system giving preference to skilled immigrants precisely to avoid this scenario.

The U.S. may want to welcome low-skilled workers to do the jobs “Americans won’t do” and to help them in the early years of assimilation. But the prospect of a multi-generational proletariat class, hovering near the poverty line and dependent on government help, is probably not what most Americans had in mind.​
We also know from history that it never turns out well for a country to have a permanent underclass with little hope of improving their status over generations.

Think of this quote from a speech by Abraham Lincoln in Cincinnati,
‘Twenty-five years ago, I was a hired laborer. The hired laborer of yesterday labors on his own account today, and will hire others to labor for him tomorrow. Advancement–improvement in condition–is the order of things in a society of equals.’”
Can we really say that today? And what does this mean for our "society of equals"?

Is anyone surprised to learn that Donald Trump supposedly had an affair with a porn star right after Melania gave birth to this fifth child? It's all very distasteful to think about and one of the many, many reasons why I never supported him in the race for president. And some Republicans who were horrified at the Monica Lewinsky story just shrugged at all the stories of Trump's adultery and piggish behavior with women. Ben Shapiro puts forward his hypothesis that people have just factored Trump's character into their evaluation of who he is.
Here’s my theory: the strong efficient market hypothesis applies to President Trump’s political fortunes. No new information, barring actual changes in the underlying economy or a war, will dramatically change Americans’ views of Trump. Everything has already been baked into the cake.

That’s why the puzzlement of the Left over the right’s apparent disinterest in the latest scandalous reports about Trump having sex with porn stars while married misses the point: we already knew this was Trump. The man had an affair with his second wife while married to his first; he had an affair with his third wife while married to his second. He used to call up newspapers in New York, pretending to be his own press agent, and lie to them about his sexual peccadillos. He’s appeared in a Playboy soft-porn video.

What about charges of racism? Nothing will change opinions there, either. He made his political bones on birtherism; he was accused of racial discrimination in the 1970s. If Democrats think Trump will go down over his comments regarding “s***hole countries,” they’re crazy.

What about suggestions that Trump is nutty? Nope, already priced in. Look at his Twitter feed. Anyone who truly thinks that Trump supporters haven’t taken into account his volatility and eccentricity (in their view) ought to have their head examined.

You’re not going to beat the Trump market. You’re just not.
So the people who despise Trump will continue to despise him and the people who like him will continue to like him. And, as Shapiro writes and as I've long thought, none of this means that he has enough loyal support to win re-election.

And the same media that went crazy over Trump's medical report and a gossipy book based on Steve Bannon's self-praise will be thrilled to have the porn star's story of her love affair with Trump. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

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Jamie Glazov looks at the claims of Trump-inspired hate crimes that have turned out to be hoaxes.
Central to the whole narrative is the supposed “Islamophobic” anti-Muslim crime-wave sweeping the nation. The rumors spread and the media regurgitates the lies without any evidence to back them up. And then, after the hoaxes are debunked one by one, the media is, by that time, bored and no longer interested.

The latest “Islamophobia” counterfeit involves a Muslim student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). The Muslima alleged that her hijab and wallet were stolen by two white Trump supporters who were shouting racial slurs. The woman’s accusation incensed leftists and Muslims across the nation and the world, prompting the ACLU of Louisiana to issue a statement denouncing both the incident and, of course, Donald Trump. The investigation into the incident involved several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. The Washington Post, New York Times and CNN, meanwhile, ate the story up.

But what happened to this Muslima’s story under tough police questioning? Well, the ULL student eventually broke down and admitted to police that she had fabricated the entire thing. By that time, of course, the media wasn’t too interested in such an innocuous little detail.

Recently, The Huffington Post reported on an incident of “Islamophobia” under the headline “Islamophobia Just Drove This Boy And His Family Out Of America.” It was all so heartbreaking and unjust. The one little problem with the story, however, was that it never happened.

Trump supporters, meanwhile, are supposedly involved in a lot of other evil than just attacking Muslim women on campuses and driving little Muslim boys out of America:

A gay Canadian filmmaker, Chris Ball, was alleged to have been beaten up by Trump supporters on election night in Santa Monica. It was upsetting, but it turned out the incident never really happened at all.

An image also recently went viral online that purported to show KKK members in North Carolina celebrating Donald Trump’s victory. It was really awful. And it was also confirmed to be a hoax. The proof of the hoax, however, didn’t go viral. (links in original)
We've seen such claims for a long time; it's not just due to Trump - he just provides a convenient hook for the stories.
In February 2016, a Michigan Muslima, Said Chatti, was arraigned in Dearborn’s 18th District Court for making a false police report about an “Islamophobic” plot to bomb Dearborn Fordson High School, a majority-Muslim high school. She contacted the Dearborn Police Department and claimed that an “anonymous” friend of hers overheard a group of individuals plotting to blow up the school to retaliate against the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. When the police presented her with the evidence of the holes in her story, she admitted it was a false report.

In December 2015, a 37-year-old Muslim man, Gary Nathaniel Moore of Houston, was charged with first-degree arson for setting a Houston mosque on fire on Christmas day – a mosque where he himself was a regular, having attended it for five years, coming five times per day to pray seven days per week. Using surveillance video from multiple businesses nearby, investigators were able to identify Moore and a search warrant of his home recovered a backpack and clothing similar to that which was seen in surveillance footage, as well as half of a two-pack of charcoal lighter-fluid bottles that seemed to match another lighter fluid bottle found inside the mosque.

In March 2012, we beheld the murder of Muslima Shaima Alawadi. At first reported as a “hate-crime,” it then turned out to be an honor murder. The media and Unholy Alliance were extremely vocal and indignant while the murder was a hate-crime, even staging a campaign, “One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi.” But once the murder turned out to be an Islamic crime, Shaima turned out not to matter to even one of the activists who had, at one point, made so much noise and howled so many cries of indignation.

The list goes on and on: a Muslim woman in England was proven to have lied to police about claiming to have been punched in the face for wearing a hijab; a Muslim woman in Dearborn dropped a lawsuit against police after video proved she was lying when claiming they forced her to remove her hijab; a supposed “hit-and-run” on a Muslim woman in Brussels blamed on “far right” anti-Islam demonstrators turned out to be perpetrated by a Muslim named “Mohamed.”
It's all sort of an effort to claim moral legitimacy by portraying themselves as the victims and their opponents as villains. For example, there was this supposed photograph of a young Palestinian boy shot in the chest by Israelis that was supposedly from the First Intifada and is being used today. Except that it was really a still from a 2012 film.