Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Cruising the Web

Senator Chuck Grassley goes to the WSJ to call out the emptiness of Senator Schumer's demand to see Brett Kavanaugh's documents from his time as staff secretary to President George W. Bush. Schumer has announced that he has no intention of voting for Kavanaugh, so why does he need to see the documents if his mind is already made up?
Presumably, Mr. Schumer announced that he would oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination before he read the judge’s 307 written opinions and the many other opinions he joined. Certainly, it was before he reviewed the more than 17,000 pages Judge Kavanaugh provided to the committee in response to our bipartisan questionnaire and an estimated one million pages of documents the committee has requested from the Bush White House, where Judge Kavanaugh once worked.

It stands to reason that Senator Schumer wasn’t too concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s record before he announced his opposition. Why is it so important to Senator Schumer now?

Democratic leaders are demanding access to every page from every email and every paper record from every one of the hundreds of White House aides who came and went during the entire eight years of President Bush’s time in office. This includes records that merely mention Judge Kavanaugh’s name and records he’s never seen. That is not reasonable. As I have made clear, I will not put taxpayers on the hook for a fishing expedition.

These documents include those from Judge Kavanaugh’s time as White House staff secretary, a post that manages the paper flow into and out of the Oval Office. They are both the least relevant documents to the nomination and the most sensitive to the executive branch, two considerations that have guided previous review processes. They’re extremely sensitive because they contain policy advice that went directly to President Bush, and the policy directives that came directly from him, on the full range of presidential responsibilities, including national security.

The staff secretary is an important position, but it’s decidedly less revealing of Judge Kavanaugh’s legal thinking than his 12 years as a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and his legal service in the White House Counsel’s Office and the Office of Independent Counsel—roles in which he acted as a lawyer. The staff secretary documents consist largely of materials Judge Kavanaugh didn’t write. They were prepared by policy advisers across the executive branch. The materials are also saturated with irrelevant documents—including miscellaneous news clippings, the daily schedule, and even the White House lunch menu....

So recent complaints from Mr. Schumer and other Democrats about the scope of records requests ring hollow, especially coming from senators who have already declared their opposition to Judge Kavanaugh and initially refused even to meet with him....

The next time you hear complaints about the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vetting process—the most extensive and transparent in history—remember Mr. Schumer’s pledge to oppose Judge Kavanaugh with everything he’s got. How much more do Democratic leaders need to know when they’re already voting no?
Exactly. I'm glad that Grassley is signaling that he's not going to fall for these stalling tactics.

David French writes in the NYT
about the banning of Alex Jones by Apple, Facebook and YouTube. As French and anyone with a moral sense acknowledges, Alex Jones is a loathsome person. But there is another method for tackling his disgusting statements - slander and libel laws rather than having private companies deciding suddenly that his language is too objectionable for their platforms.
Let me start by making a few things abundantly clear. First, Alex Jones is a loathsome conspiracy theorist who generates loathsome content. Second, there is no First Amendment violation when a private company chooses to boot anyone off a private platform. Third, it seems reasonably clear that Mr. Jones’s content isn’t just morally repugnant, it’s also legally problematic. He makes wild, false claims that may well cross the line into libel and slander.

Right now, Mr. Jones is defending lawsuits filed by multiple Sandy Hook Elementary families accusing him of making intentionally false factual statements. Most appallingly, he has insisted that these grieving families were faking their pain: “I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying and they were preplanning before it and rolled out with it.”

So on Monday, when Apple, Facebook and YouTube acted — in seemingly coordinated fashion — to remove the vast bulk of Mr. Jones’s content from their sites, there’s no cause for worry, right? After all, this was an act of necessary public hygiene. A terrible human being who has no regard for truth or decency is finally getting what he deserves.
The problem is the subjectivity of the sites' decisions.
Rather than applying objective standards that resonate with American law and American traditions of respect for free speech and the marketplace of ideas, the companies applied subjective standards that are subject to considerable abuse. Apple said it “does not tolerate hate speech.” Facebook accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “glorifying violence” or using “dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.” YouTube accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “hate speech and harassment.”

These policies sound good on first reading, but they are extraordinarily vague. We live in times when the slightest deviation from the latest and ever-changing social justice style guide is deemed bigoted and, yes, “dehumanizing.” We live in a world where the Southern Poverty Law Center, a formerly respected civil-rights organization, abuses its past trust to label a host of mainstream organizations (including my former employer, the Alliance Defending Freedom) and individuals as “hate groups,” “white nationalists” or “anti-Muslim extremists,” based sometimes on disagreements about theology or sexual morality or sometimes on outright misreadings and misrepresentations of an individual’s beliefs and views.

Exhibit A of how wrong the center has been: In June, it paid Maajid Nawaz $3.375 million for labeling him an “anti-Muslim extremist.” This is rich, considered Mr. Nawaz is a former Islamist turned Muslim reformer.

Yet Big Tech still listens to the Southern Poverty Law Center and takes action to punish its targets. Amazon recently booted Alliance Defending Freedom from its AmazonSmile charity program because of the center’s designation....

One doesn’t even have to look to Big Tech to see the almost infinite malleability of the “hate speech” label. In the name of stopping hate speech, university mobs have turned their ire not just against alt-right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer, but also against the most mainstream of conservative voices, like Ben Shapiro and Heather Mac Donald.

Dissenting progressives aren’t spared, either. Just ask Evergreen State College’s Bret Weinstein, who was hounded out of a job after refusing to participate in a “day of absence” protest in which white students and faculty members were supposed to leave campus for the day to give students and faculty members of color exclusive access to the college.
Rather than having these private companies decide on their own what is objectionable to them with vague definitions of hate speech, it would be better, French argues to make their decisions based on the legal definitions of libel and slander.
To be sure, this would tie their hands more: Unlike “hate speech,” libel and slander have legal meanings. There is a long history of using libel and slander laws to protect especially private figures from false claims. It’s properly more difficult to use those laws to punish allegations directed at public figures, but even then there are limits on intentionally false factual claims.

It’s a high bar. But it’s a bar that respects the marketplace of ideas, avoids the politically charged battle over ever-shifting norms in language and culture and provides protection for aggrieved parties. Nor do tech companies have to wait for sometimes yearslong legal processes to work themselves out. They can use their greater degree of freedom to conduct their own investigations. Those investigations would rightly be based on concrete legal standards, not wholly subjective measures of offensiveness.

Private corporations can ban whoever they like. But if companies like Facebook are eager to navigate speech controversies in good faith, they would do well to learn from the centuries of legal developments in American law. When creating a true marketplace of ideas, why not let the First Amendment be your guide?
Sounds like a much more reasonable standard than something as amorphous and subjective as "hate speech."

Ben Shapiro, who has been a target of personal attacks from Jones and thinks Jones is a vile person, also criticizes the decision by these companies to ban him. But, as Shapiro argues, the Left won't stop with Alex Jones.
But I’m far more concerned with social-media arbiters suddenly deciding that vague “hate speech” standards ought to govern our common spaces than I am with the daily dose of detritus distributed by this delirious dunce. Social-media giants had a choice here. If they wanted Jones gone, they could simply have defined a standard limit on the number of debunked conspiracy theories one could peddle on the site before being banned, or they could have created a standard prohibiting public threats.

Instead, they chose the most politically correct way of booting Jones: They claimed he’d violated undefined standards regarding “hate.” That’s why so many on the right are rushing to Jones’s defense — not because they like Jones or anything he stands for, but because the Left is happy to apply double standards under the rubric of “anti-hate measures.”

To see how, we only need to examine the last week of news. Sarah Jeong, the newest member of the New York Times editorial board, has tweeted dozens of times, in racist fashion, about white people. The Left defended Jeong, not on the grounds that the New York Times ought to ignore social-media mobbing, but on the grounds that people of color can’t be racist. Were Jeong white, the Left dutifully explained, she would justifiably be fired; but since she is an Asian-American graduate of Berkeley and Harvard Law School, she’s a victim of the white patriarchy, and thus fully entitled to use racist slurs to target those with less melanin in their skin. “Hate speech,” it seems, only runs one way.

And it only applies to particular viewpoints, too. Suggest that Caitlyn Jenner is a man, and you might be violating crucial social-media “hate speech” taboos; suggest that the Jews are bloodsucking demons, as Louis Farrakhan does, and the leaders of the Women’s March will still hobnob with you.

Is it any wonder, then, that conservatives don’t trust social-media hall monitors to apply their alleged rules with equal vigilance? It’s demonstrative of the echo chamber that is Silicon Valley that rather than going after Jones on some semblance of an objective standard, they went directly for the buzzwords that will be most popular among those who love Sarah Jeong.

Unfortunately, the informal implementation of left-wing “hate speech” standards will likely be only a precursor to far more devastating culture wars to come. That’s because the Left does not operate in good faith. People of rational mind agree that Jones is a never-ending font of silly garbage. But the Left won’t leave it at Jones, which is why the social-media giants didn’t craft an objective standard to apply.

Robby Soave also weighs in to argue that the issue isn't free speech, - after all, these are private companies -
but the "incoherence of 'hate speech.'"
Facebook doesn't actually need a reason to ban people from its platform. It can take virtually any action it thinks will improve the user experience. It could ban all conservatives tomorrow if it so desired.

Facebook did give a reason for banning Jones, though, and it's a fairly weak and ill-defined one. "As a result of reports we received, last week, we removed four videos on four Facebook Pages for violating our hate speech and bullying policies," the company explained. The problem was not that Jones was lying, or engaged in libel, or spreading fake news. The problem was hate speech. But we don't know which statements he made were deemed hateful, or why. We don't know if Jones is being singled out, or if anyone who said the things he said would be banned. We don't know if a statement has to be targeted at a particular person to count as bullying, or whether generic trutherism could fit the bill.

I'm saying this for a third time so that I'm not misunderstood: Facebook can define hate speech however it wants. I am criticizing the lack of clarity in its definition, not because I think the government should intervene, but because I am a user of Facebook who worries that a stronger anti-bullying policy will be difficult to apply evenly.

Jones has been engaged in the same shtick for years. I can't imagine that no one had ever complained about him before. So why now? What is so hateful or bullying about his speech that wasn't apparent last week? What prompted the clearly coordinated campaign to remove him from so many major publishing platforms?
Soave quotes what he wrote in response to Zuckerberg's comments that Holocaust deniers should not be banned from Facebook.
In our modern political discourse, Facebook plays a role very much akin to the public square: a massive one, involving the entire world. The arguments for letting nearly all voices—even deeply evil ones, provided they do not organize direct violence or harassment—be heard on this platform are the same arguments for not taking the European route on hate speech: Policing hate on a very large scale is quite difficult given the frequently subjective nature of offense; we risk de-platforming legitimate viewpoints that are unpopular but deserve to be heard; and ultimately, silencing hate is not the same thing as squelching it.
The story of what has happened with Alex Jones is a good trial of whether or not people believe anymore in the famous quote that Voltaire, apparently, never said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Such an attitude has long been the classical liberal attitude toward freedom of speech. Sadly, it no longer is. Just about everyone can agree that Alex Jones is truly loathsome. Let him rant his ugliness. Let the courts proceed with the suit by the Sandy Hook parents. At least, if they're going to ban him, don't do it because of some ill-defined "hate speech." Do it because he has made reckless statements about the killings at Sandy Hook that have led to harassment of grieving parents by his rabid viewers. What is more important is the precedent that has been set and where it goes from here.

For an example of how those on the Left will band together to try to ban speech of which they disapprove, witness the recent story about how journalists pressured the Newseum, the museum devoted to freedom of the press, to stop selling T-shirts that say "Fake News." Their objection was that this was legitimizing Trump's attacks on the press. As Tunku Varadarajan points out, they were missing the history of the phrase which first arose by Trump's opponents to characterize how Trump and his supporters manipulated the news. Several months later Trump started using the phrase and was able to turn the tables on those criticizing him. But the media critics of Trump ignored that history and pressured the Newseum to stop selling the shirts.
This sweeping mea culpa leads one to wonder how well the folks at the Newseum know their history. “Fake news” isn’t Mr. Trump’s own coinage. He first tweeted the phrase on Dec. 10, 2016, several months after his media detractors had used it as a barb against him. The modern paternity of the phrase, in other words, lies with the people who wanted to kill off the T-shirt.

But its first recorded use predates the Trump presidency by some distance. On June 7, 1890, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune headlined a story thus: “Secretary Brunnel declares that fake news about his people is being telegraphed over the country.”

That said, the main objection to the Newseum’s decision isn’t pedantic. It has misunderstood completely the semiotics of the T-shirt. Who takes a T-shirt’s text literally? Wearers put them on for all sorts of reasons, frequently in pursuit of irony. Donning a T-shirt that blares “Fake News” on its front can just as easily be a subversion of the idea—a slap at Mr. Trump—as an endorsement of it.

You’d think the guardians of journalism would get that—even as they strong-arm a museum dedicated to free speech to pull a T-shirt whose message they dislike.

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono has decided to ask judicial nominees about their sexual history.
At the time, she claimed such questions were relevant because at least one judge had been accused of sexual harassment. The judge in question was Alex Kozinski – on the 9th Circuit – while the first judge Hirono asked these questions to was nominated to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Not that the difference matters, but it’s basically like someone from Facebook asking if you ever embezzled money because someone from Twitter was accused of doing so. Same industry, different companies, and using one incident to justify asking inappropriate questions....

Hirono in January asked Judge Kurt Engelhardt two questions about his sexual history designed to look like perjury if someone in the future accused him. Engelhardt was confirmed to the 5th Circuit despite Hirono’s questions, and has thus far not been accused of sexual misconduct.

During his senate hearing, Hirono asked Engelhardt the following:
Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?

As Woehrle and attorney Scott Greenfield have pointed out, this is an incredibly leading question that has two unrelated parts.

“This question deliberately lumps together two very different things,” Woehrle wrote. “A request to your spouse for sexual favors is not illegal, even if your spouse says he doesn’t want sex; by contrast, assault of a sexual nature certainly is illegal, and should preclude anyone who commits it from ever being a judge.”

But as anyone with commonsense would know, there is no way to know something is unwanted until you ask.

“Defenders of Senator Hirono’s questions say they are appropriate because she is asking about unwelcome sexual advances, and sexual harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances,” Woehrle wrote. “But that is as illogical as saying that because Aristotle is a man, all men are Aristotle. To be sexual harassment, sexual advances or other behavior must be ‘unwelcome.’ But that does not mean that all, or even most, unwelcome behavior is sexual harassment.”

Woehrle points out that courts have up held that to be sexual harassment in the legal sense, the unwelcome conduct “must be ‘severe or pervasive’ enough to create a hostile environment for a ‘reasonable person,’ based on their sex, and be ‘objectively offensive,’ not just subjectively unwelcome.”

Kamala Harris, who is all set to run for president in 2020, is fully embracing identity politics. She just doesn't want to call it that. But she's happy to advocate that Democrats should be choosing more women of color. And, by happy coincidence, she is a woman of color. Isn't that a wonderful coincidence?
“I have a problem, guys, with that phrase, ‘identity politics,’” Harris told the audience. “Because let’s be clear, when people say that, it’s a pejorative. That phrase is used to divide, and it is used to distract. Its purpose is to minimize and marginalize issues that impact all of us. It is used to try and shut us up.”

The left have become experts at flipping reality on its head, blaming others for the very behavior they project.

Harris launched into the discussion on identity politics after noting the Democrats “shouldn’t just be thanking women of color for electing progressive leaders in 2018, we should be electing women of color as those leaders.”

The California lawmaker declared Democrats “won’t be shut up, and we won’t be silenced” on issues like playing the race card, abortion and advocating for illegal immigrants.

“And let’s be clear these issues that they’re trying to diminish and demean are the very issues that will define our identity as Americans,” she concluded.
Who knew that our identity as Americans meant supporting abortion and illegal immigration?

One member of the Santa Cruz City Council has made a political gaffe by actually saying what he really believes.
A Santa Barbara city councilman inadvertently let slip the primary purpose of progressivism in 21st century America.

The city recently criminalized the use of plastic straws. Speaking to that issue, Councilman Jesse Dominguez said, “Unfortunately, common sense is just not common. We have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives.”

Got that? "We" are smarter than you and know what's best for you better than you do.
That isn't a conservative using hyperbole to characterize the progressive agenda - that's a politician stating what he believes the real goal is. Now he's apologizing for saying what he really thinks.
The comment sparked an immediate backlash from people who read the quote in Noozhawk and other local media, wondering “did he really say that?” Yes, he did, and on Tuesday, Dominguez apologized for the comment.
“I just wanted to apologize,” Dominguez said at the beginning of the meeting. “A few weeks ago I made a string of words in a rhetorical fashion about regulation and they were not taken as rhetorical and that’s my fault so I want to apologize.”

Steven Hayward comments,
Now, we do have to admit that the good councilman has a point about Santa Barbara citizens lacking common sense. He’s on the city council, after all. Sort of an inversion of the great rhetorical question both Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan liked to ask: “Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?”

But “string of words”? I know of a new editorial board member at the New York Times who will buy that, but otherwise I think everyone can understand exactly what the councilman believes. That “string of words” combines into a noose for individual liberty. And common sense. Here’s to hoping the voters of Santa Barbara recover their common sense and pull the string on Dominguez (and his “words”) at the next election, along with the other five knuckleheads who voted for the plastic straw ban.
Maybe he can address exactly which aspects of our lives he doesn't believe the government should regulate.

Tamara Berens explains how anti-Semitism is a chosen strategy of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party's leadership. It's been clear for a while now that Corbyn has a history of hanging with anti-Semites and participating in anti-Israel activities. But Corbyn isn't apologizing or resigning as most politicians would have to do if even half of what has been made public about Corbyn's history had come to light. And other leaders of Labour with similarly ugly histories are remaining in leadership. It's clear that this is now a choice and that says a lot about the state of British politics.
erate action to sow discord with both the Jewish community and moderate Labour MPs. The Labour National Executive chose not to fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism used by the British government, Metropolitan Police, and many other institutions around the globe. They opted instead to omit examples of antisemitism relating to Israel from their definition, including guidance that calling the creation of Israel a racist endeavor is an antisemitic claim. After reacting to the Jewish community’s longstanding pleas for change with empty promises, the adoption of the IHRA definition in full was a prime opportunity for the Labour party to achieve an easy win. The choice to reject it should be seen as nothing less than a deliberate snub of British Jewry.

As well as snubbing the Jewish community, Jeremy Corbyn appears to be actively seeking the silencing of his internal political opponents. Margaret Hodge, a veteran Jewish Labour MP, recently publicly confronted Corbyn about his attitude towards antisemitism, accusing him of being a “racist and anti-Semite.” Ian Austin MP, supporter of the parliamentary Labour Friends of Israel group, also stood up for his values and made his disagreement with Corbyn’s rejection of the IHRA definition known. They are now both under formal investigations by the party and were sent letters threatening "disciplinary action."These investigations seem to be moving suspiciously more swiftly than those initiated by the party against Corbyn allies Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah.

Finally, an old video recently resurfaced of Jeremy Corbyn linking a terror attack in Egypt to “the hand of Israel.” The 2012 interview on Iranian-owned Press TV saw him pedal anti-Israel conspiracy theories in a discussion of a bombing where 16 Egyptian policemen were killed in the Sinai desert. His comments from 2012 were defended last week by a Labour party spokesperson, who asserted that his “speculation” had been factually based on previous Israeli actions in Egypt.
So why would he be doing all this? It could be that he's just an unreconstructed anti-Semite but it seems more like he's chosen this as a political strategy that he thinks will help Labour. It's also clear that Corbyn likes hanging with the sort of company that anti-Semitism puts him into.
Anti-Zionism—and by extension, giving credence to antisemites—is fundamental to the worldview Corbyn has cultivated on his journey to political stardom. For most of his political career, Corbyn was a fringe socialist politician and supporter of the USSR, Syria’s Assad, the Iranian Ayatollahs and Maduro’s Venezuela. After becoming Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn toned down some of this support for radical anti-Western groups. Nonetheless, he has consistently maintained his support for anti-Zionist causes. What’s undoubtable is that throughout his career, his ultimate goal has remained the same; rejecting Western values and embracing the alliance between radical socialists and Islamists in a strategic bid to normalize and implement socialism in the UK.

Politically, Corbyn’s strategy is working: According to a recent YouGov poll, 61 percent of the party believes Corbyn is handling accusations of antisemitism well. And 80 percent of the party deems him a good leader overall. The events of the past few weeks indicate that the Labour leadership has been able to build on their apparent success to formally distance themselves from the overwhelmingly Zionist British-Jewish community. This perhaps became most apparent last Friday, when Jeremy Corbyn published another article in The Guardian disregarding his part in normalizing antisemitism in the party. The piece came out at 5pm, when the majority of Jews in the country were busy preparing for the Sabbath.

The reality is that support from the Jewish community is no longer an indispensable part of the Labour party. In fact, Corbyn’s foreign policy—a large aspect of his political differences to Blair’s Labour—rests on weakening UK-Israel relations. Corbyn has constructed a successful strategy for claiming the Labour party as his own socialist vehicle for disruption of the Western liberal order. Labeling recent events a “scandal” greatly underestimates the strategic nature of his leadership.

If you live in Washington D.C., as my daughters do, and already hate the Metro, now there is an additional reason to be contemptuous of how the Metro is being run.
All of the new 7000 Series rail cars on Washington D.C.’s Metrorail subway system must undergo repairs to replace the cars’ wiring, a new report says.

According to a review conducted by Metro’s Quality Assurance, Internal Compliance & Oversight office, the wire crimping on the cars was not correctly completed. The flawed wiring has and has been a factor in issues with the rail cars and can lead to major delays.

As a result, all of the 548 new rail cars currently in service must undergo repairs that are likely to take a full year to complete. The review determined that Metro did not demand Kawasaki, who was manufacturing the rail cars, to conduct relevant quality checks.
More delays - oh, joy. How can the leaders of Metro not demand quality checks?

I lived in D.C. when the Metro system was built and first opened. At the time, I was so very impressed at its design and how it operated. It was so clean compared to other cities' older systems. It's still clean, but it seems to have slow-downs and gets shut down on some routes way too often.