Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cruising the Web

Jim Geraghty wonders about Trump's decision to unload on Canada's trade policies.
Trump and his fans believe he’s demonstrating “toughness” in ways that previous presidents couldn’t. Perhaps. The question is, what happens after you’ve demonstrated your toughness? Does the other side capitulate, or does the other side dig in? No doubt it’s cathartic to visibly rage at the other side, but does it get you where you want to go?

Trump now interacts with the prime minister of Canada the same way he lashes out at Rosie O’Donnell, Mika Brzezinski, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, by ripping into him on Twitter: “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @g7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!”

Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, raged on Fox News Sunday: “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door . . . that’s what bad faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference.”

Talk about turning it up to eleven. When U.S. policymakers tell a foreign leader that there’s a special place in hell waiting for him, it’s usually a brutal dictator who’s committed atrocities and human-rights abuses.
But Trudeau wasn't sufficiently complimentary to Trump so he merits the nuclear rhetoric addressed to him from Trump's yes-men in his administration.
Of course, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — Trump’s own administration — in 2017, the U.S. exported about $8 billion more to Canada in 2017 than it imported. (The figures are a little muddied by goods that Canada exports to places such as Mexico by shipping them through the United States.)

When Trump and his team denounce Trudeau in such strong and personal terms, do you think they weaken or strengthen his resolve? Do you think they made it more likely or less likely that Trudeau will return to the negotiating table, ready to make concessions?

What is it that the president and the administration really want? My suspicion is that for Trump, the tough stance is the end, not the means to the end. Getting others to perceive you as “tough” and not easily swindled is the actual desired outcome, not the particular policy concessions. If the concessions come, great. If it turns into a prolonged, standoff, that’s fine; that’s just another opportunity to demonstrate “toughness” in a test of wills.
Meanwhile, average people on both sides of the border will be the ones to suffer.



Dan McLaughlin has a very nice explainer
of yesterday's Supreme Court decision on Ohio's policy on how to purge voter rolls, Husted v. A. PHilip Randolph Institute. I've already seen responses that are worried that this ruling will be used by states to block people from voting. Such hysteria totally ignores the very narrow decision and how it was based on a federal law written by Democrats, and passed
with almost every congressional Democrat voting for it and which President Clinton then signed. This is the National Voting Registration Act of 1983 (NVRA) or the Motor Voter Act. Besides making it easier to vote, it also required states to go through their lists of voters and remove those who are ineligible to vote either because they had died or moved. The problem then became how and when to purge these lists. So the issue is not whether or not states can purge voter rolls. They are required to do so by NVRA and the Help America Voter Act (HAVA) passed in 2002 after the voting problems in 2000.

So one way that Ohio, and many other states use, is to purge people who submit change-of-address forms to the Post Office. But a lot of people don't submit such forms. What to do then? Ohio's solution was to investigate those people who hadn't engaged in voter activity such as voting, updating registration, or signing a petition, or updating an address with a state agency. Then those people were sent postcards asking them to verify that the voter was still there. If there was no response, Ohio waited four years and then, if the person hadn't voted or otherwise updated his or her address, that person could be purged from the voter rolls. The question in this case was about the order of those actions in cleaning out the rolls. Could Ohio use the absence of "voter activity" to trigger the whole process? They weren't using the inactivity to purge voter names, but to start the process of checking up on the person and setting the four-year time limit.

Remember, the states are required by federal law to clean out their rolls, but are forbidden from using mere nonvoting as the reason for purging them. There is nothing in the law as to whether non-voter activity can or cannot be used to trigger the process. Thus, the narrowness of this decision. It just allows Ohio to continue its procedures.
here are arguable points on both sides of this narrow question of statutory interpretation, but as Justice Alito noted, the bottom line is that NVRA and HAVA eliminated the old practice of purging registrations just for non-voting and created a process by which non-voting was a legitimate factor in addition to failure to send the response card.
The five Justices in the majority interpreted the federal laws as allowing Ohio's procedure. The minority justices seemed to ignore what the laws actually said because they don't like what Ohio is doing.
Beyond that, the dissenting Justices grasped at straws. Justice Breyer argued that a purge that considered non-voting plus non-response was not a “reasonable” one under NVRA’s requirement of “a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names,” and complained about the fact that people tend not to return postcards, so it’s unreasonable to hold that against them. But if the Court had followed his lead, it would have created two new problems: overruling Congress’s decision that the return-card process was a proper one, and getting judges into the business of deciding what is and isn’t “reasonable.”

Justice Sotomayor wrote separately to complain that Ohio’s system “disproportionately affected minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters,” but as Justice Alito noted, this had nothing to do with the evidence in the record or the issues the Court was asked to decide:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR’s dissent says nothing about what is relevant in this case — namely, the language of the NVRA — but instead accuses us of “ignor[ing] the history of voter suppression” in this country and of “uphold[ing] a program that appears to further the . . . disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters.” . . . Those charges are misconceived. The NVRA prohibits state programs that are discriminatory . . . but respondents did not assert a claim under that provision. And JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR has not pointed to any evidence in the record that Ohio instituted or has carried out its program with discriminatory intent.
In reality, purges of inactive voter registrations are necessary to maintaining fair and honest elections, and when they actually had responsibility for writing federal laws on the subject, Democrats recognized that.
Instead of immediately crying illegal partisanship or racism, how about examining what the case was really about and what the criteria that was used to resolve it? But because the state is a red state, the immediate assumption is that there must have been something nefarious going on. This is dishonest sophistry.


The National Archives, in trying to comply with federal law to include digital and hard copy records from the Obama administration in its archives is running into a problem. THe Obama administration seems to have violated federal law by destroying records that should have been kept and handed over to the National Archives. Does this sound familiar? You betcha.
And yet the accumulation of recent congressional testimony has made it clear that the Obama administration itself engaged in the wholesale destruction and “loss” of tens of thousands of government records covered under the act as well as the intentional evasion of the government records recording system by engaging in private email exchanges. So far, former President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Lynch and several EPA officials have been named as offenders. The IRS suffered record “losses” as well. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy called it “an unauthorized private communications system for official business for the patent purpose of defeating federal record-keeping and disclosure laws.”

Clearly, America’s National Archives is facing the first major challenge to its historic role in preserving the records of the United States. What good is the National Archives administering a presidential library, like the planned Obama library in Chicago, if it is missing critical records of interest to scholars? And what’s to prevent evasion of the entire federal records system by subsequent administrations to suit current politics rather than serve scholars for centuries to come?
The National Archives is a treasure trove for historians. There is something marvelous that we require officials to keep records and then we archive them for future historians to sift through. When I was an undergraduate, I had the thrill of using documents in the National Archives for my honors thesis about the efforts by Polish-Americans to lobby the Wilson administration to include Poland's corridor to the sea in the final treaty with Germany. I still remember sitting at the desk in the National Archives when the library aide rolled up a cart with dusty boxes of documents from the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. As I gingerly went through those yellowing records, I kept thinking how amazing it was that an undergraduate student in the 1970s could be going through those papers from almost 60 years earlier. I didn't have to be a PhD or credentialed historian. All I had to do was show up and fill out a request form. The Archives might keep only about 2 to 5% of all federal records, but it is the job of the Archivists to decide what to keep, not administration figures who are worried about history will cover their actions.

Will there be any penalty for the Obama administration figures who destroyed records? Remember, whatever the Obama folks get away with will now be a precedent. And you can guarantee that the Trump administration will be quite willing to exploit such precedents just they have done with numerous other Obama precedents. And guess what? Trump is already ignoring the law. There are people on the federal payroll who spend their days piecing together papers that Trump has torn up.
Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”
Sheesh! How hard is it for him to understand the federal law? Apparently, it's quite difficult.
But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the president wasn’t violating the law.

Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Lartey and his colleagues to reassemble.

“We got Scotch tape, the clear kind,” Lartey recalled in an interview. “You found pieces and taped them back together and then you gave it back to the supervisor.” The restored papers would then be sent to the National Archives to be properly filed away.

Lartey said the papers he received included newspaper clips on which Trump had scribbled notes, or circled words; invitations; and letters from constituents or lawmakers on the Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I had a letter from Schumer — he tore it up,” he said. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”

Lartey did not work alone. He said his entire department was dedicated to the task of taping paper back together in the opening months of the Trump administration.

One of his colleagues, Reginald Young Jr., who worked as a senior records management analyst, said that during over two decades of government service, he had never been asked to do such a thing.

“We had to endure this under the Trump administration,” Young said. “I’m looking at my director, and saying, ‘Are you guys serious?’ We’re making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this. It felt like the lowest form of work you can take on without having to empty the trash cans.”
Yup, it sure does and it is totally unnecessary. To add insult to injury, both of the men who were doing this work were suddenly let go from their jobs without any explanation. One of them described his firing as "Kafkaesque." It certainly sounds like it. I hope we will one day get the full story.


Trump's administration is already following Obama's precedents. David French argues that that is a problem. If conservatives didn't like actions that Obama took that expanded the executive's powers, we should be equally critical when Trump does it. One such example is the administration's recent decision that the DOJ won't defend the Affordable Care Act against legal challenges. Obama's DOJ did the same thing in deciding not to defend DOMA. Conservatives argued at the time that it was the job of the DOJ to defend federal laws, not decide which laws they agreed with and which they didn't.
This decision is wrong, full stop. The Department of Justice should defend American laws against legal challenge so long as there are non-frivolous arguments to mount in their defense. To do otherwise disrupts the constitutional order in part by imposing an extra-constitutional executive check on legislation duly passed through Congress.
Just because Obama's administration did it isn't an excuse now for Trump. Would you allow your children to give you that excuse?

French points out that the media hubbub about the Trump administration's decision neglected to mention that the Obama administration had done the same thing with DOMA. As French points out, this is what media bias looks like.
This is what conservatives mean when they talk about media bias. How hard is it to note that the Trump administration is not the first administration to fail to defend an act of Congress in court? How hard is it to note that the Obama administration declined to defend an act of Congress in one of the most important Supreme Court cases in decades?

In recent days we’ve seen the political establishment repeatedly express alarm when the Trump administration actually follows in the footsteps of previous administrations. Far from transgressing “norms and values,” it’s continuing recently established, troubling practices.
There are other examples. Trump is just following ugly precedents from other presidents.
In recent days we’ve seen the political establishment repeatedly express alarm when the Trump administration actually follows in the footsteps of previous administrations. Far from transgressing “norms and values,” it’s continuing recently established, troubling practices.
This is why there should have been much more media outrage at these particular precedents. Just because they liked those presidents, a principled position would be to be the watchdog no matter who is president in order to prevent what French calls "the longstanding degradation of America’s constitutional government." Maybe in the future, journalists will realize that the next president might be someone they will dislike and so they should ring the alarm when presidents they like violate our constitutional norms.


Instead of changing the standards to get into New York City's elite schools, Mayor de Blasio should pay attention to what some generous nonprofits are doing to help minority students to qualify for the schools. Don't water standards down and create racial quotas; instead, help raise students up so that they can qualify.
According to city Department of Education data, a stunning 27 percent of high-performing black and Latino students offered seats in the city’s specialized high schools snub them.

“They [the DOE] have to understand that talented kids have options outside the public system,” said Clara Hemphill, editor of InsideSchools.org. “They have to actively recruit them, and make them feel more welcome.”

The nonprofits do that. One of the biggest, Prep for Prep, boasts 715 minority kids — snatched from DOE schools, plus some charters and parochials — who are currently enjoying the advantages of $50,000-a-year private schools such as Trinity, Horace Mann and Spence, or boarding schools such as Exeter and Andover.

Prep runs a 14-month “boot camp” in which kids still in public schools attend outside classes, led by private teachers, for two summers, and on Saturdays and Wednesday evenings during the school year. The students get lots of extra homework, to boot.

“This is for a very special kid,” said Ed Boland, a Prep for Prep vice president, of the caliber of the organization’s students. “It’s a tremendous sacrifice.”

....Black and Hispanic students make up only 4 percent of Stuyvesant’s 3,336 students, but 10 to 15 percent at many top private schools.

“Ironically, a black or Latino may feel less isolated at some of the independent schools than at Stuyvesant,” Hemphill said.

Besides Prep, non-profits Oliver Scholars, A Better Chance, and TEAK Fellowship also give intense training to funnel hundreds of minority and poor kids into elite private middle and high schools. Breakthrough New York currently has 77 kids enrolled in privates — and 156 who won seats in DOE selective and specialized schools.
This is what affirmative action should look like. Helping students qualify instead of simply setting quotas or changing the standards.


Sharyl Attkinson points to problems with the FBI's description of how it tried to block Russian collusion in our election by putting forth a counterexample.
Once upon a time, the FBI said some thugs planned to rob a bank in town. Thugs are always looking to rob banks. They try all the time. But at this particular time, the FBI was hyper-focused on potential bank robberies in this particular town.

The best way to prevent the robbery - which is the goal, after all - would be for the FBI to alert all the banks in town. "Be on high alert for suspicious activity," the FBI could tell the banks. "Report anything suspicious to us. We don't want you to get robbed."

Instead, in this fractured fairytale, the FBI followed an oddly less effective, more time-consuming, costlier approach. It focused on just one bank. And, strangely, it picked the bank that was least likely to be robbed because nobody thought it would ever get elected president - excuse me, I mean, because it had almost no cash on hand. (Why would robbers want to rob the bank with no cash?)


Stranger still, this specially-selected bank the FBI wanted to protect above all others happened to be owned by a man who was hated inside and outside the FBI.

So, to protect this bank owned by the guy the FBI hated, the FBI secretly examined a list of bank employees and identified a few it claimed would be likely to help robbers - or, at least, would not stop a robbery. How did it select these targets? By profiling them based on their pasts.

These particular bank employees, the FBI said, were chosen because they worked long ago with customers who might have known bank robbers in the past - maybe not the particular robbers planning a bank robbery this time, but different people who knew people who were thought to have robbed banks in the past ... or, perhaps, people who thought of robbing banks at some point but never got around to it.

So the FBI decided these particular bank employees, who may have known or met with suspicious people in the past, might be capable of committing a future crime.

Mind you, these targeted bank employees had never served time in prison, never been convicted of anything, never even been charged with a crime. If the FBI had just gone to them and said, "Hey, we think some people are going to rob this bank and we've got our eye on you, too," the bank robbery probably would be avoided. Everybody would be watching out for the robbers.

Instead, the FBI secretly sent at least one spy - er, "informant" - to commingle with the bank employees and get info. Yes, you are thinking, it would seem to make a lot more sense to spy on the would-be robbers than their intended victims. But the FBI chose to spy on the victims. You know, for their own good.
Read the rest. It kinda makes one think.


I guess Charlie Chaplin was the original inspiration for a popular meme.