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.