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Updated: 2017-07-26T15:01:21.678-04:00

 



Cruising the Web

2017-07-26T06:14:02.769-04:00

Donald Trump continues his practice of leadership by browbeating. Undermining Jeff Sessions continues to be his main focus as if there were nothing else going on for the president of the United States to be dealing with. And when he's not trashing Sessions for recusing himself and not going after Hillary Clinton, he's threatening HHS Secretary Tom Price if the GOP doesn't repeal Obamacare. Apparently, Trump can't exercise the "Art of the Deal" with Congress so he wants to blame Price as if it's Price's fault that different members of the GOP have varying views on health care. Trump seems surprised by all the difficulties he's facing as president. Does he have any idea of how his treatment of those who work with him will make it even more difficult to find competent people who are willing to come work for him? I was never all that thrilled with the choice of Sessions as Attorney General, but Trump shouldn't forget that it was Sessions' endorsement of him early in the campaign that helped to give Trump some heft with conservatives, especially on immigration.Jonah Goldberg notices how silly Trump supporters have been about Sessions.As I noted in last week’s G-File, there was a time when the case for Trump among many conservatives rested to a significant degree on Sessions’s support for him. Now, the case against Sessions rests entirely on Trump’s lack of support for the attorney general. Sessions, for good or ill, has not changed. The only thing that’s changed is Trump’s “interests.” I put interests in quotes because I think, objectively speaking, it is not in his interest to fire Sessions or force him to quit. But Trump sees it differently.One of the things I find most remarkable about all this is how the case for Trump always seems to come back to Hillary Clinton, who — I can report — is not the president of the United States or even a candidate.I constantly hear that I can’t get over the election and the fact that Trump won. Having taken a vigorous personal inventory of my feelings, I can tell you that I don’t believe this to be the case. But it does seem like some people can’t let go of the election. Every night, Sean Hannity beats on the “real scandal” of Hillary Clinton, as if that story has anything to do with the facts of the Trump presidency. If there’s good reason to investigate or prosecute Hillary Clinton, I’m all for it. But even if Clinton had the book thrown at her, it would not affect the investigations into Trump. In reality, they are independent variables. But in the gaseous world of shout shows and Twitter, they are somehow linked. The binary, seesaw logic of the election still holds that if Hillary is down, Trump is up. It’s all so otherworldly.All the more so because it was Donald Trump who said after he was elected that Hillary had “suffered enough”....When Trump said this, there was some grumbling among hardcore Trump supporters. For instance, Peter Schweizer said that Trump shouldn’t even be commenting on a potential criminal investigation. But for the most part, the decision was spun as a sign that the president wanted to be a “president for all.” Now the president is insinuating that Sessions needs to go because he’s refused to prosecute Hillary Clinton, even though the president had made it clear he didn’t want her to be prosecuted.In other words, whether appropriate or not, the attorney general loyally followed the president’s wishes and now Trump’s stated — as opposed to real — reason for why Sessions should go is that he didn’t contravene the president’s stated desire. It’s all obvious nonsense. But that hasn’t stopped some people from pretending that this a serious argument, because for them the election is never over, and the only enduring principle is that Trump must always “win.”What a surprise - Donald Trump flip-flopping on something he said previously!Victor Davis Hanson points out that, when Sessions first recused himself, there were many people in the administration who thought that this might serve to quiet down[...]



Cruising the Week

2017-07-25T06:20:00.183-04:00

Glenn Reynolds writes, and I agree, that Jeff Sessions shouldn't be fired for the reason that he's ticked Trump off - recusing himself from the Russia investigation - but for his efforts to expand civil forfeiture.Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny....The problem is pretty widespread: In 2015, The Washington Post reported that law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.And it’s not only a species of theft; it’s a species of corruption. Starting in 1984, law enforcement agencies were allowed to retain the assets they seized instead of paying them into the general treasury. Not surprisingly, this has led to abuses in which law enforcement targets individuals based on how much money it can get and how easily it can get it, not on their status as criminals. What’s more, by retaining these assets, law enforcement agencies have money to do things that the legislatures haven’t chosen to fund. That undermines democracy.As deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., put it, according to The Post: “All of our hometowns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine.”In one case, law enforcement seized a student’s luggage and money because the bags smelled like marijuana. In another, officers seized a man’s life savings because the series of deposits from his convenience store looked to them like he was laundering money.Of course, it’s especially easy to be suspicious of people when those suspicions let you transfer their bank accounts into yours.It is mind-blowing to me that it is considered constitutional to seize the property of someone who has not been convicted of a crime, sometimes not even charged with a crime.Well, if Trump did fire Sessions, this would be a disaster.President Trump is so unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he has raised the possibility of bringing back Rudolph Giuliani to head the Justice Department, according to West Wing confidants.In internal conversations, Trump has recently pondered the idea of nominating Giuliani, a stalwart of his campaign.Giuliani would have trouble getting confirmed. Since leaving politics, he's built up a consulting business that would raise as many eyebrows as the Clinton Foundation. Those connections to foreign governments hurt him when his name was mentioned for the Secretary of State job. He built a lucrative consulting and speechmaking career after leaving City Hall. His firm, Giuliani Partners, has had contracts with the government of Qatar and the Canadian company that is building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Mr. Giuliani has given paid speeches to a shadowy Iranian opposition group that until 2012 was on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations....His other clients have included a long list of prominent American corporations, including Bear Stearns, Uber and CB Richard Ellis, the real estate giant. Under contract with Purdue Pharma, the maker of the often-abused painkiller OxyContin, Mr. Giuliani used his clout with the Justice Department to press the federal authorities to offer a less onerous punishment to the company after allegations that security problems at its warehouses might have contributed to black market sales.But it is the lesser-known names that may draw the most scrutiny.TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, a company that aims to “assist Western clients in furthering their business interests in the emerging economies of the former Soviet Union,” according to its website, is among the more obscure clients.Records show Mr. Giuliani has had ties dating to at l[...]



Cruising the Web

2017-07-24T06:25:00.837-04:00

Avik Roy reports that nearly three-quarters of the losses in coverage under the Republicans' health care proposals comes from repealing the individual mandate. In other words, if people weren't required to buy health insurance, the CBO estimates that around 16 million people wouldn't be buying it. The CBO bases that number on an estimate of what would happen if the individual mandate were repealed and nothing else was done.And there’s a more fundamental question: if Obamacare’s insurance is so wonderful, why do millions of Americans need to be forced to buy it? By definition, you haven’t been “kicked off” your insurance if the only reason you’re no longer buying it is that the government has stopped fining you.Suspiciously, the CBO isn't making it public what is the basis of their estimates.You’d think that, but CBO has refused to disclose that breakdown. The end result is a lot of misleading commentary about how Republican plans “take coverage away” from 22 million people.This week, I obtained from a congressional staffer the CBO’s estimates of the coverage impact of repealing the individual mandate, separate from the Senate bill’s other provisions. The estimate was built out of earlier work CBO did to model how repealing the mandate would affect the federal deficit. CBO projected then that repealing the mandate alone would lead to 15 million fewer insured U.S. residents in 2018, and 16 million fewer by 2026, though they did not publish those estimates.16 million represents nearly three-fourths of the CBO’s estimate of the coverage difference between the GOP bills and Obamacare in 2026. That’s despite the fact that, as I noted in March, even Jonathan Gruber—one of Obamacare’s most famous advocates—believes Obamacare’s individual mandate is having little effect. In a 2016 article for the New England Journal of Medicine, Gruber and two co-authors wrote, "When we assessed the mandate’s detailed provisions, which include income-based penalties for lacking coverage and various specific exemptions from those penalties, we did not find that overall coverage rates responded to these aspects of the law.”It does seem interesting that the CBO doesn't want to make public the basis for their analysis. If the purpose of the CBO is to help lawmakers, wouldn't lawmakers be interested in knowing what needs to be changed in order to insure more people? And, as Roy points out, the rest of the CBO's analysis is also built on a flawed analysis.To be clear, even if one excludes the CBO’s exaggerated view of the impact of the individual mandate, CBO scores the Senate bill as covering 6 million fewer people than Obamacare in 2026: 2 percent of the U.S. population. But even that number can be partially explained by CBO’s outdated March 2016 baseline, which assumes that enrollment in Obamacare’s exchanges peaks out at 19 million, when it’s more likely to end up below 9 million, if Obamacare stays on the books and premiums continue to rise. (That's the difference between the red and green curves in the above chart.)Even if we assume that half the difference between the March 2016 exchange enrollment projections and the real world is accounted for by the exaggerated mandate effect, the net result is that the CBO’s projection of the difference in health coverage under Obamacare and the GOP bill—the pink bars in the below chart—amounts to statistical noise. (See the article for his graph.)These are not inconsequential points. The Democrats have been able to fling about the accusation that the GOP plans would throw 22-23 million of people out of health care. Nowhere do they acknowledge that 16 million of those people are those who voluntarily choose not to buy insurance and almost all the result is built on a false baseline number. But those accusations are powerful, because few people know the reality. And the accusations have been strong enough to frighten GOP moderates.The CBO’s love affair with the individual mandate is the reason[...]



Cruising the Web

2017-06-20T07:24:17.862-04:00

It was a very good day for the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech yesterday at the Supreme Court. Two decisions came down that were basically unanimous in protecting speech rights. The first one, Matal v. Tam, was a case that my AP Government and Politics class had used in a moot Supreme Court hearing. The case involves a rock group "The Slants" made up of Asian Americans. They'd chosen the name partly to dilute the racial impact of the ethnic slur. However, the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) had denied them trademark privileges under part of the law from 1946 that banned the registration of a trademark that “may disparage … persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” The Court ruled that this disparagement clause violates the First Amendent. Justice Alito, joined by three other justices, wrote, [The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”In a concurrence, also for four justices, Justice Kennedy wrote, A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.As Eugene Volokh summarizes, speech that is racially offensive is also afforded First Amendment protections.And the justices made clear that speech that some view as racially offensive is protected not just against outright prohibition but also against lesser restrictions. In Matal, the government refused to register “The Slants” as a band’s trademark, on the ground that the name might be seen as demeaning to Asian Americans. The government wasn’t trying to forbid the band from using the mark; it was just denying it certain protections that trademarks get against unauthorized use by third parties. But even in this sort of program, the court held, viewpoint discrimination — including against allegedly racially offensive viewpoints — is unconstitutional. And this no-viewpoint-discrimination principle has long been seen as applying to exclusion of speakers from universities, denial of tax exemptions to nonprofits, and much more.Take that, Snowflakes!This decision should hold ramifications for the Redskins whose trademark had also been revoked by the PTO under the disparagement clause. This ruling should cancel out that ruling from the PTO and allow the football team to carry on with the trademark of its merchandise. The Redskins had submitted an amicus brief supporting the Slants. Their trademark was revoked in 2014 and they'd been appealing that decision. This case should mean that their trademark is restored. The team is already celebrating.Redskins owner Dan Snyder said he was "thrilled" with the Supreme Court's ruling, and team attorney Lisa Blatt said the court's decision effectively resolves the Redskins' longstanding dispute with the government."The Supreme Court vindicated the Team's position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government's opinion," Blatt said in a statement.When we did this case in my three classes, the rock group won each time; however, the decision was much closer. There were always a few of the students who were playing the justices who were persuaded by the arguments of the students repr[...]



Cruising the Web

2017-06-19T06:51:27.678-04:00

So now some on the right have embraced the idea that, if some on the left are despicable, why not be despicable also? It is rather the attitude of young children whose defense when caught behaving poorly is to whine that the other kid started it. Sure, it's tasteless to stage a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar as if it was the assassination of President Trump. And it's shameful when students shout down conservative speakers and don't let them speak. But that doesn't mean that the proper response is to try to shut down speech with which we disagree. But that is what happened this weekend at the Shakespeare in the Park production.A right-wing protester disrupted the "Shakespeare in the Park" production of "Julius Caesar" in New York City that appears to depict the assassination of President Trump on Friday night.A woman jumped on the stage during the assassination scene and shouted, "this is violence against Donald Trump" and "this is political violence against the Right." The demonstration was met with boos and jeers by the audience.She was then escorted off the stage by security guards, during which Jack Posobiec, a right-wing activist and conspiracy theorist, filmed the scene and yelled, "You are all Goebbels. You are all Nazis like Joseph Goebbels. This is Goebbels. You are all Goebbels. You are inciting terrorists. The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands."No, they are not Goebbels. The left are not Nazis. And the blood of Representative Scalise is not on their hands. If conservatives don't want to be blamed when something violent happens, then they shouldn't employ the same empty arguments.Ken White, who blogs as Popehat, has a nice post about this idiocy.One angry justification for disrupting the play goes like this: liberals do this to conservatives, so this is fair play. We're just imposing liberals' rules on liberals. Liberals disrupt conservative speakers on campuses all the time, and if that's okay, why isn't this okay?This way lies madness and destruction, the excuse to abandon everything we believe. We follow our principles because they're right, not because everyone agrees with them. We follow them in adversity and in the face of opposition and even injustice. We give due process — a jury trial — to a cop who shot a motorist even if a very good argument can be made that the cop executed the motorist without due process. We defend the free speech of Nazis and communists who would deny it to us if they had power. At one point, I would have been able to say that we don't torture people even if they torture.The "eye for an eye" theory of respecting free speech is particularly pernicious because it represents the worst sort of collectivism, something the principled Right ought reject. Note that people who say "apply the Liberals' own rules to the Liberals" aren't disrupting, say, an Antifa rally or the meeting of some Berkeley student group that advocated shutting down a conservative speaker. They're disrupting other people entirely, on the theory that everyone they deem part of the nebulous collective "Liberal" deserves to be silenced because someone else in that nebulous collective engaged in silencing behavior. He goes on to argue that the real threat to free speech and open dialogue comes not from the protesters, but those in authority such as the university administrators who have such limp responses to their behavior.But we can, and should, do better. Commitment to free speech as an American value — as an element of American exceptionalism — has always required tolerating evil and injustice and idiocy. We don't refrain from disrupting speech because the speakers deserve it, or because we've been treated fairly by the speakers or their allies. We refrain from disruption — and ought to punish those who disrupt — because free speech is the necessary prerequisite of a society based on individual rights and freedoms. It's the right that's the gateway to all othe[...]



Cruising the Web

2017-06-16T06:55:11.225-04:00

CNN's Chris Cillizza made an unfortunate tweet the other day challenging the idea that there have been "fake" or "incorrect" stories and asking for examples of #FakeNews. His tweet has brought an avalanche of replies giving lots of examples in which the MSM has published or presented stories that later turned out to be false. And here is a list of five fake stories that CNN aired. Scrolling through these examples were quite a few that I'd forgotten about.And the New York Times provided its own example of #FakeNews by publishing an editorial repeating the false story that the man who shot Representative Giffords and killed six people was motivated by heated rhetoric and Sarah Palin's PAC's map with targets on congressional districts where they wanted to defeat in the 2012 elections. Here is what they originally wrote:Not all the details are known yet about what happened in Virginia, but a sickeningly familiar pattern is emerging in the assault: The sniper, James Hodgkinson, who was killed by Capitol Police officers, was surely deranged, and his derangement had found its fuel in politics. Mr. Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter and campaign volunteer virulently opposed to President Trump. He posted many anti-Trump messages on social media, including one in March that said "Time to Destroy Trump & Co."Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They're right. Though there's no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.After an outraged response from all sides, the NYT inserted a line saying that there was no connection and issuing an apology. The Washington Post's Fact Checker issued their own analysis that this entire claim was bogus even though it had been pushed by the left at the time. They had also issued that fact check back in 2011. Jared Lee Loughner, the murderer, was a schizophrenic who had been interested in Giffords long before the shooting or the Palin PAC pamphlet which there was no evidence that Loughner had seen. As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, the corrected version of the editorial, which now includes this line about the Giffords shooting, "But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established," leaves a false impression.It seems to me that if you were coming to this text fresh, with no awareness of the previous version of the editorial, the controversy, or the correction, you’d come away thinking that Palin may have had something to do with Loughner’s shootings but the connection had not been rigorously proven. You’d have the impression, that is, that Palin probably has blood on her hands but the Times is so fair-minded that it won’t come out and say so until every t is crossed.So even their correction seeks to further the impression that somehow Republicans are to blame.What astounds me was that writers at the NYT would have written this in the first place. Are they so insulated in their liberal bubble that they didn't know that the story was bogus? I find that hard to believe, but it's possible. The only other alternative is that they knew it was false and wrote it anyway. Either possibility is very damaging to the NYT's claim to be the paper of record. As Mark Hemingway points out, two years after the shooting and the debunking of the story, [...]



Cruising the Web

2017-06-15T06:35:10.744-04:00

We're all feeling a sense of horrified unity after the shooting at the Republican baseball team yesterday, I'm struck by how lucky everyone was that the Capitol Police were there and were able to take down the shooter. If you look at the map of where everyone was on an open baseball field, it's amazing that more weren't injured. The Congressmen huddled in a dugout and would have been quite vulnerable to the shooter if the Capitol Police hadn't taken him down before he could get to them. Jim Smith, a former Congressional aide, pays tribute to the Capitol Police.Their long and unusual hours require that they are exempt from the USCP's collective bargaining agreement. A typical day might involve work at the Capitol, a cross country flight, followed by an hours-long drive to a destination, before any relief or respite. Always on alert.When you work side by side with these dedicated men and women, they become your colleagues. They become your friends. Christmas parties, baby showers, happy hours, intramural softball games and the like. In a sense, they're employees of the office itself, just like you. Except that while your job might be to write memos and take meetings, their job involves body armor, bullets, and guns.A lot of aides (myself included) don't reflect on that as much as they should: That Capitol Police officer has pledged to do everything, including die, to protect you. Yes, that same guy who plays first base on your softball team. (Four USCP officers have died in the line of duty over the years.) Everyone knows that police are in a dangerous line of work, but sometimes you don't appreciate the risks that the person who sits (or more often stands) nearby is taking.That congressmen practicing for a charity baseball game and participating in one of the few bipartisan activities where partisanship is put aside were targets of a murderous attack is so disturbing.After such mass shootings, there is always a rush by one side or another to try to make ideological points based on who the shooter and victims were. Other than attacks that seem inspired by terrorists and should be investigated and prosecuted as such, I don't think that there is much we can extrapolate from the actions of crazed or evil attackers. Just because this guy was a Bernie Sanders supporter and ranted against Republicans doesn't mean that Sanders or Democrats are to blame for his actions. But it would be nice if liberals practiced the same understanding when there are attacks that they think they can make political hay out of. Senator Sanders was understandably appalled that one of his volunteers had taken to violence to attack Republicans. But, as Matt Welch reminds us, Sanders wasn't as eager to separate political rhetoric from a murderous attack when he could cast blame on Republicans.Sanders did not choose in this moment to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the left wing of American politics, and appropriately so: As I argued after Jared Loughner's deadly Arizona shooting rampage in 2011 (and again as recently as last month), responsibility for acts of violence lies with the perpetrators, not unconnected persons engaged in political hyperbole, no matter how deranged the latter. I only wish such post-Loughner restraint had been shown by Bernie Sanders himself.On January 11, 2011, three days after Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and murdered six people, Sanders sent out a fundraising email that, among other things, criticized Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for not doing more to condemn right-wing political rhetoric.Ah, fundraising over a tragedy while also attacking a Republican. Classy. As Welch concludes, On days like today, it's worth engaging in a little self-inventory to see how you reacted when the political violence was aimed at the opposing team. If in one case you assign responsibility to the shooter, and not to the polit[...]