Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cruising the Web

Whew! All the country's problems will soon end.
Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence said she is taking a yearlong break from acting to focus on activism and help “fix our democracy.”

...“I’m going to take the next year off,” Lawrence told Entertainment Tonight, “I’m going to be working with this organization I’m a part of: Represent.Us. It’s just trying to get young people engaged politically on a local level.”

She claims her activism work will have nothing to do with partisan politics. “It’s just anti-corruption and stuff trying to pass state-by-state laws that can help prevent corruption, fix our democracy. And then I don’t know what I’m doing next.”

The organization Lawrence got involved in claims to bring together “conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between to pass powerful anti-corruption laws that stop political bribery, end secret money, and fix our broken elections.”
Gee, if only we'd realized that earnest young people could get politicians to stop being partisan? And why wouldn't a person with the following views be able to bring together people of all views?
Lawrence has long expressed interest in activism, attacking President Donald Trump multiple times. In 2015, she said, “If Donald Trump becomes president, that will be the end of the world,” according to Entertainment Weekly.

More recently, she suggested the devastating hurricanes in Texas and Florida last year were signs of “Mother Nature’s rage and wrath” at America for electing Trump and not believing in man-made climate change.

“You know, you’re watching these hurricanes now, and it’s really hard, especially while promoting this movie, not to feel Mother Nature’s rage and wrath," she said back in September.

H&R Block Tax Software Deluxe + State 2017 + Refund Bonus Offer

H&R Block Tax Software Premium & Business 2017 [PC Download]

Quicken Deluxe 2018 Release - 27-Month Personal Finance & Budgeting Membership

TurboTax Deluxe 2017 Fed + Efile + State PC/MAC Disc [Amazon Exclusive]

J.D. Tuccille writes at Reason
to imagine what will happen if we actually do pass a law to ban semiautomatic weapons.
Warned by experts that yet another "assault weapons" ban made no sense because "as a matter of functionality, these guns are just like other rifles. They're more powerful than some handguns and rifles, and less powerful than others," they decided to go a step further. Encouraged by Supreme Court turnover and the resulting opportunity to redefine the Second Amendment out of existence, Congress banned all semiautomatic firearms in private hands, with compensation promised in return.

Many lawmakers later admitted that they never realized that semiautomatics made up maybe half of the 310 million guns estimated by the Congressional Research Service to be in private hands as of 2009. Just as important, they'd never understood that, outside of a very few jurisdictions with some sort of registration on the books, the government really didn't know who owned what guns. Even in those jurisdictions, compliance had been spotty—15 percent compliance with assault weapon registration in Connecticut, and 5 percent in New York. Many owners had openly refused to abide by registration laws out of fear of precisely what had come to pass: compensated confiscation.

A few million guns were surrendered, and victory weakly proclaimed—to much cheering in some media circles, and jeering elsewhere in the fractured country. The largely unplanned-for cost of compensating the owners of those few million guns sparked a new round of jeers. The surrendered guns came overwhelmingly from the jurisdictions with registration, and from people sympathetic to the law.

Congress summoned its energy one more time and passed ammunition restrictions. From now on, you could only purchase ammunition for weapons registered in your name.

Gun sales surged again, now for bolt- and lever-action rifles chambered in rounds traditionally used in semiautomatic rifles, and revolvers that similarly accepted traditionally semiautomatic calibers. It escaped nobody's notice that ammunition purchased for a legal weapon could also be used in guns that never made it to the registration lists.

Enjoying similar surges in popularity were ammunition reloading supplies, purchased by people who wanted to stay entirely clear of registration lists. A new generation of 3D printers and CNC machines also saw booming sales as enthusiasts flocked to arsenal-in-a-box solutions that let them manufacture almost anything they wanted at home. The simplest CNC machines converted 50 percent lowers into finished firearm receivers—that was down from 80 percent, but likely to go no further after engineers scolded legislators that they were coming close to criminalizing blocks of metal.

Enforcement of the new laws proved to be exceedingly uneven, with many state and local law enforcement agencies—especially those serving gun-friendly constituencies—explicitly opting out. "It is well established that the federal government cannot force state officials to implement federal laws," legal experts reminded angry gun control advocates. That left the most enthusiastic enforcement in areas where support for the law and compliance was already strongest.
Tuccille links to this 2015 column by UCLA law professor Adam Winkler that explains why an assault rifle ban wouldn't reduce gun violence. First of all, assault weapons have been banned since 1986. What people are talking about now are what are sometimes called semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15.
These rifles are easy to use, even for beginners. They are accurate, have little kick and are highly customizable with add-ons such as special sights and grips. In part because of these attributes, and in part because of their sleek military styling, these guns have become hugely popular among law-abiding gun owners.

As a matter of functionality, these guns are just like other rifles. They're more powerful than some handguns and rifles, and less powerful than others.

They're "semiautomatic" — a technical term that applies to the way rounds are chambered, not to the way the guns shoot. Many handguns are semiautomatic too. Military-style rifles fire only one round for each pull of the trigger, just like a revolver, a shotgun, a hunting rifle or any other of the 300 million legal guns in America.

It's true that these rifles are often sold with detachable high-capacity ammunition magazines that increase their lethality, enabling a shooter to fire more than a dozen rounds quickly. (Such magazines are illegal to sell in California.) But again, these firearms are not unique in this. About half the handguns in the U.S. also have detachable high-capacity magazines.

The only thing unique about assault rifles is their menacing name and look, and it is these elements that make them such an appealing — if not particularly sensible — target of gun control advocates.
There was a federal ban on those guns from 1994 to 2004. Eight states have assault weapon bans.
The laws, however, are largely ineffectual. Because these guns are really just ordinary rifles, it is hard for legislators to effectively regulate them without banning half the handguns in the country (those that are semiautomatic and/or have detachable magazines) and many hunting rifles as well.

Lawmakers have instead focused on cosmetics. The federal ban applied to all semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and two or more military-style features, like flash suppressors and a bayonet attachment. California law tightens the rules a bit; even one of the military-style features is prohibited.

But gun makers have been able to easily skirt these laws. They just sell the same semiautomatic rifle, with the same lethality, but without the military-style features.

Little wonder then that a 2004 study commissioned by the Department of Justice found that the federal ban didn't lead to any decrease in gun crime or gun deaths. For starters, rifles, assault or otherwise, are rarely used in gun crime. Notwithstanding the two rifles used in San Bernardino (and a few other memorable mass killings), rifles account for only about 3% of criminal gun deaths. Gun crime in the United States

This is an astounding chart.
Mark Perry of the Carpe Diem blog had posted the chart and now he reports some of the comments that he received on the chart from Twitter.
See any patterns? Tradeables (with import competition like TVs) vs. non-tradeables (like childcare), manufactured goods (with import competition like clothing and cars) vs. services (medical, hospitals, education), competitive (software) vs. protected industries (healthcare), degree of government involvement/funding/regulation?

Here are some comments from Twitter about the chart, which I posted there a few days ago and which has been re-Tweeted more than 200 times.

1. Blue lines = prices subject to free market forces. Red lines = prices subject to regulatory capture by government. Food and drink is debatable either way. Conclusion: remind me why socialism is so great again.

2. Interesting, almost all of the items above the line are protected industries while those below the line are subject to generally robust competition…

Interesting Finds at Amazon: Updated Daily

Grocery and Gourmet Food

Home and Garden

Kevin Williamson notes
a "tell" that Trump uses when he's lying.
Strange thing about Trump and his superlatives: It isn’t enough for him to be rich—he is compelled to pretend he is richer than he is. It isn’t enough to be a playboy who disposes of used wives like old newspapers—he is compelled to lie about his sex life to the press he claims to hold in contempt, inventing imaginary friends such as John Barron to peddle lies to reporters on his behalf. And it isn’t enough that he was elected president—he is compelled to pretend that he was elected in a landslide, by a historically large margin rather than a relatively small one. Trump is an odd specimen, indeed: a confidence man lacking in confidence.

In his weekend tweetstorm, the president (typing the preceding words is dismay-inducing) lied about having denied Russia’s election adventure. “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” he wrote. In fact, he said that a number of times. E.g. this Fox News postelection interview: “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. I don’t know why, and I think it’s just — you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week, it’s another excuse.”

And the next sentence out of his mouth was: “We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”

Trump has some pretty obvious tells. No wonder he lost his shirt in the casino business.

K.C. Johnson, who has a been a fierce defender of due process rights for university students accused of sexual assault, points to this statement from Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an interview in The Atlantic.
Rosen: What about due process for the accused?

Ginsburg: Well, that must not be ignored and it goes beyond sexual harassment. The person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself, and we certainly should not lose sight of that. Recognizing that these are complaints that should be heard. There’s been criticism of some college codes of conduct for not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that’s one of the basic tenets of our system, as you know, everyone deserves a fair hearing.

Rosen: Are some of those criticisms of the college codes valid?

Ginsburg: Do I think they are? Yes.

Rosen: I think people are hungry for your thoughts about how to balance the values of due process against the need for increased gender equality.

Ginsburg: It’s not one or the other. It’s both. We have a system of justice where people who are accused get due process, so it’s just applying to this field what we have applied generally.
Since so many of the victims of the university's denial of due process rights are suing the schools (and winning), K.C. Johnson predicts that Ginsburg's words will "find its way into some of the campus due process complaints & perhaps even a decision or two."

Michael Barone points
out that Ginsburg's words put her on the same side as the woman the left detests, Betsy DeVos.

Jazz Shaw links to this story about how the Marine Corps has lowered requirements to become a Marine combat officer so as to help out women to pass the course.
The U.S. Marine Corps will no longer require prospective officers to pass a punishing combat endurance test to graduate from the service’s Infantry Officer Course.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller quietly made the shift to standards in November, altering the test from a pass/fail requirement to just one of many exercises measured as part of overall IOC evaluation, the Marine Corps Times first reported on Thursday.

The course is considered among the military’s toughest training programs, with about a quarter of all students failing to complete it, according to the Washington Post. Most of the 30-plus women who have attempted IOC dropped on the first day during the combat endurance test.

Only one female Marine has graduated from the course since former Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all military combat roles would be open to women in 2015.

Marine Training Command officials rejected the notion that the change slackens service standards and said it brings the exercise back to its original intent of assessing the "retention of knowledge, skills, and fitness achieved" at IOC, reported....

Officials said a Marine’s score on the combat endurance test would "inform" their overall graduation assessment.

Though some have proposed abandoning the test as a fail point in IOC, others have said such a change would lower overall Marine standards.

Marine 2nd Lt. Emma Stokien argued in a 2014 op-ed that removing the required passage of the test would negatively impact female integration into the service.

"Changing this rite of passage will be doing female Marines no favors in trying to be infantry officers," Stokien wrote in War on the Rocks. "Female Marines often have to work much harder than their peers to earn the same respect, and entering the infantry under the dark cloud of even perceived lowered standards will make this a practically impossible challenge and potentially cause real harm to unit cohesion and the faith between leader and led."
Shaw comments,
The few details known about the training regimen are daunting. Applicants are tossed out on a forced march in the dark of night carrying 80 or 100 pounds of gear on their backs. They have to carry that gear and hold their rifles over their heads while treading water, scaling walls, completing an obstacle course and other tasks. They’re also “taken by surprise” in simulated enemy ambush situations and judged by how they “respond to pain” in realistic combat scenarios.

Obviously, the number of women who are capable of all that is vanishingly small in the general population. Heck, the number of men who can manage it is no doubt far below one percent. Why do you think we call them the few and the proud?

But the fact is, there were a few women completing the CET. In the first year of trials, three women made it through, though they didn’t finish the entire IOC. And wasn’t that always the expectation? We supposedly weren’t guaranteeing any particular number of women roles as combat officers in the Marine Corps. We were just giving them the opportunity to try and prove they have what it takes.

But now, some aspiring officers (presumably of both genders) who fail to complete the CET will still make it through and lead Marines into combat. You can say that you’re “not lowering the standards” until you’re blue in the face, but it sure looks that way from the outside.

Deals in Office Products

Deals in Home and Kitchen

Vitamins and Supplements

Deals on Gifts in Kitchen and Dining

Accusations have been roiling British politics
The Sun found documents in the Czech archives that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had met with a Czechoslovakian spy back in the 1980s. Jan Sarkocy, the Czechoslovakian agent, claims that Corbyn was a paid informant with the codename "Agent Cob." Corbyn claims that he didn't know that the guy was a spy and just thought he was a Czech diplomat. The Czech government today is saying that Corbyn was not an informant. There is another accusation about Corbyn's questionable activities during the Cold War.
A second file on Mr Corbyn is reportedly held in the archives of the former East German secret police, the Stasi, and can only be released with the Labour leader’s permission. Almost 5,000 people have signed an online petition calling on him to request the file is released.
How convenient that he is not giving permission for the files to be released.

Who knows if the story is true or not. But, as Douglas Murray points out, is there anything in Corbyn's personal history that would lead us to be shocked if the story took out to be true?
The Labour party leader has been in the most obscure corner of British politics for three decades, only moving to the front-bench — let alone his party’s leadership — in 2015. During those decades, he used his obscure corner of politics to only one discernible end: to agitate for almost any group so long as they opposed the British state. He was, for example, the most prominent supporter in Parliament of the IRA, inviting its leaders to Parliament just after they had attempted to assassinate a British prime minister, and even standing to honor as “martyrs” IRA terrorists killed in an attack on a British police station. Today. Corbyn’s supporters like to pretend that their leader was merely the foremost, advance-brigade of the “peace” business and that in all the years supporting IRA killers he was in fact merely paving the way for the Good Friday Agreement. An agreement in which he paid no part.

A similar story has played out since 2015 regarding Corbyn’s support for almost any Islamist extremist he can get his hands on. Whenever he has been quizzed in recent years on why he has been so keen to meet Hamas, Hezbollah, and any free-floating Holocaust-denier who might not otherwise have made it into his orbit, here too his supporters explain that this is all just part of a broader search for “peace.” Albeit a peace that involves only meeting one side and then expressing unyielding solidarity with their cause.

The list goes on. His support for, and apologism on behalf of, the government of Venezuela remains immovable. As do his set-responses when quizzed about an even worse alliance. When asked why between 2009 and 2012 Corbyn received £20,000 from the government of Iran via its “Press TV” propaganda channel, he and his supporters claim that all this happened many years ago and that besides £20,000 isn’t an enormous amount. Few people can honestly assess the record of Corbyn’s beliefs, pay, and connections and come away believing the claim that he is indeed merely a fair-minded fellow with the best interests of his country at heart.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cruising the Web

Two Democrats, Douglas Schoen and Andrew Stein, advise their party not to ruin their chances of victory this year by refusing to compromise on immigration. They point to poll data showing that the immigration issue hurt them in Midwestern states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2016. There is a compromise out there with Republicans giving way on DACA if the Democrats would vote for positions on border security that they voted for just a few years ago.
President Trump has proposed a compromise by offering a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, building a wall on the southern border, ending the visa lottery program, and ending what he calls “chain migration” and what the Democrats call “family unification.”

In fact, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has proposed a bill in Congress based on these four planks. The Democrats have previously said this proposal is dead-on-arrival, which is a clear mistake and there are some small bits of evidence now that the party is the waking up to the fact that the Schumer-Pelosi approach was just plain wrong.
They reference statistics that indicate that immigration issue might have made the difference for the " 9.2 percent of Obama voters who defected from the Democratic Party to vote for President Trump."
While immigration reform has been framed by Democrats as a tradeoff between a popular initiative for the Dreamers and an unpopular wall, this is a misreading of public opinion. The wall is indeed unpopular, but it actually serves as a proxy for border security, which remains a central concern of many voters, especially in swing states and among noncollege-educated whites.

In terms of electoral politics, if the Democrats are to regain the House, they will need to win back Obama-Trump voters in the Midwest, as well as independents and moderates throughout the country. In fact, 10 of the 38 Republicans who are retiring or otherwise vacating their seats in 2018 are from the four Midwestern states of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
THey point to another set of poll results that might worry Democrats feeling complacent about winning the House this Fall.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll also finds that the advantage Democrats hold in the generic congressional vote comes almost entirely from districts the party already holds. Indeed, the Democrats hold a lead by a strong 38 points in their own districts, yet trail Republicans by six points in the very districts they need to flip in order to regain the House.
Taking a hardline position and refusing to compromise with Trump is not going to be the way to win back those voters. But, as it stands, the Democrats seem to be taking a position of refusing to compromise because they're hoping that they'll be in a better position after the elections. And thus, they're refusing the positions that Schumer was willing to accept with the "Gang of Eight" bill.
Approaching the 2018 midterms, the American people are tired of leaders playing politics on immigration reform and are disappointed that Democrats are putting up roadblocks when they have radically changed their position from when they supported similar legislation just a few years ago.

In 2013, Schumer and his “Gang of Eight” introduced a $46 billion overhaul of U.S. immigration law squarely aimed at strengthening border security and providing illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship. Had the bill passed, it would have doubled the number of border patrol agents to 40,000 and required the construction of 350 miles of fencing. This deal has largely gone by the wayside, clearly to the electoral disadvantage of the Democrats.
It's good advice for the Democrats. That's probably why they'll ignore it.

It really does seem, as Bre Payton argues, that Democrats care more about having the DREAMers as an issue rather than actually trying to help them.
On Thursday, not one, not two, but FOUR immigration reform proposals failed to pass the Senate after Trump made it clear he would not sign a bill unless it included funding for a border wall, end “chain migration,” and stopped the visa lottery system. Trump has been very vocal about what he will and won’t sign — it’s not like this is a secret. The leaders of the Democratic Party know what they will have to concede in order to create legal favors for these DREAMers, and they are simply unwilling to do it.

Immigration hardliner Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told The Washington Post there was “broad agreement about how to solve this problem.” “But we won’t succeed unless the Democrats stop this incessant virtue-signaling and start negotiating in good faith,” he added.
But that would involve a compromise and the Democrats seem to prefer to bill rather than some sort of compromise.
Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is set to expire March 5 if Congress can’t agree on a compromise, defers the lawful consequence of deportation for politically appealing classes. It allows them to stay in the United States, get work permits, drivers licenses, and pay income tax for two years at a time. This program does not provide these 800,000 DACA recipients with a pathway to citizenship beyond the same processes all applicants already have to follow, nor was it ever intended to.

In short, DACA was never going to be a permanent solution for these DREAMers and was always subject to be altered or cut short at the whims of the person who occupies the Oval Office. The way the program is structured is a classic Democratic ploy — keep a group of people stuck in a bad situation as long as possible in order to use them as pawns in a larger game of identity politics.

Another problem the Democrats are facing is really rather delicious. They're waking up to the fact that the GOP tax law is a lot more popular than they ever believed it would be.
Democrats are being urged to point out the disparity between immediate benefits for lower and middle-class Americans and the nation's top earners, especially as they head home for the next week during the week-long recess. However, they see an uphill slog against the GOP messaging and the rising paychecks some voters are experiencing.

"It's tougher to win when people are seeing more money," Yarmuth said, although he believes noting the disparity between the rich and other taxpayers will eventually resonate with voters.

Interesting Finds at Amazon: Updated Daily

Grocery and Gourmet Food

Home and Garden

Salena Zito ponders how Christian faith is now being derided by so many in America. At least the glitterati and media bigwigs are the ones who have a contemptuous attitude toward people who are believers.. Last week we saw Joy Behar and the audience of "The View" make fun of Mike Pence for believing that Jesus speaks to him. She joked that believing that he's hearing Jesus is a sign of mental illness. I'm not a religious person and I'm Jewish, but even I know that believing that Jesus gives people guidance is a central tenet of Christianity.
“I am not sure what shocked me the most, that Behar mocked one of the core beliefs of Christianity or the reaction of the studio audience,” said Tim McGregor, pastor at the Lighthouse of Hope, a non-denominational Christian church here in western Maryland.

“It is troubling to me how much they responded to her. They were affirming it with laughter and clapping, and I’m like ‘What are you people.’ I mean, “What do you believe in?” McGregor said.

McGregor said most Christian denominations believe in the same thing Pence does — that Jesus can speak directly to members of his flock. “If anyone knows anything about the Christian faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit is God speaking to us and through us,” he said, adding, “It’s not like [Pence] thinks he’s Moses or something. You know what I’m saying?”

McGregor finds this intolerance and lack of empathy from celebrities and the media both startling and predictable. “It is as though in popular culture being a person of faith has gone from being a virtue to a liability,” he said.
It was a typical attitude by so many elites. They don't seem to either know any religious people or be familiar with what people of faith believe. You have to really be in a bubble not to know anyone whose religious is important to them.
Since the beginning of the 1970s, people who sit in a pew every Sunday are decreasingly represented in the industries that control our popular culture, entertainment, media and politics. Part of the reason for this is demographics. While the United States is home to more Christians than any other country in the world, according to data compiled by Pew Research Center, and roughly 7 in 10 Americans identify with some branch of the Christian faith, the percentage of adults over 18 who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly 8 percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014. Unsurprisingly, residents of red states are more religious (Alabama is most religious at 77 percent), while people in the coastal states, where the bulk of our media and entertainment is created, are much less religious (Massachusetts is least religious at 33 percent).

This empathy gap often isolates people of faith as they are depicted as being odd, unhinged, outside the norm — or “clinging to their religion,” as Barack Obama once said on the campaign trail.
Since when has it become a standard comedic take to make fun of 70% of the country? Why is toleration of religion regarded as less than toleration of other characteristics?
This country was built on tolerance towards all peoples, including religious ones. The cultural elite should remember that mocking them is no different from mocking someone because of their race, gender or sexual persuasion — groups they so fiercely and rightly work to protect.
We all know why this is so. As soon as religious beliefs came into conflict with liberal positions on cultural issues.

When I cover the 1950s in my AP US History class, the kids are often amused to hear how many movies based on religious themes were big hits in that era. How many movies like "Ben-Hur," "The Ten Commandments, "The Robe," "Quo Vadis," etc. would be made today?

Meanwhile, Neil deGrasse Tyson is ridiculing people who pray in response to school shootings.

Ben Shapiro points to that tweet and Steven Pinker's conclusion that the school shooting casts " doubt on the idea that there is a benevolent shepherd who looks out for human welfare. What was the benevolent shepherd doing while the teenager was massacring his classmates?... If you’re counting on God to make the world a better place you are probably going to make the world a worse place because he is not listening and we saw that yesterday.”

Shapiro delivers a tutorial on religion that helps to understand what religious folks square the existence of evil while still believing in a benevolent God.
Let’s start with Tyson. Prayer is not designed to “change God’s mind.” God doesn’t change His mind (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 32:4). Prayer is designed to change us. It’s designed to remind us who is in charge, to remind us that we must do more to perfect ourselves and recognize our responsibilities. The number of serious religious thinkers who believe that prayer is designed like a quarter to drop in a gumball machine approaches zero.

Now, Pinker. The Bible is filled with terrible things happening to good people. The New Testament is built on the sacrifice of Jesus, a perfect being, in excruciating suffering. Does Pinker truly think that the presence of evil in the world discredits the idea of a benevolent God? My own personal perspective is that human evil is part and parcel of God’s plan for us — free will allows human beings to do evil things to other human beings, which is one of the reasons we must inculcate virtue in our children and look to protect one another; if God were to preordain only good for the good, free will would disappear. But that’s just one answer. There are lots of others, provided by thinkers far deeper than Pinker.

But the point here is that for a lot of New Atheist types, snark substitutes for serious consideration of alternative viewpoints. Most religious people have seriously considered atheism — I know that I have, and that I continue to do so. But it’s disrespectful and nasty to use every act of human evil — evil that a relationship with God is designed to mitigate — as a dishonest attempt to discredit arguments religious people never made in the first place.
I found that a helpful explanation of the question of theodicy, the attempt by religious people to explain why a benevolent God would allow evil to exist. I'm not a believer, but Tyson and Pinker's attitudes seem part and parcel of the contempt that certain elites have to those who are religious believers.

Deals in Office Products

Deals in Home and Kitchen

Vitamins and Supplements

Deals on Gifts in Kitchen and Dining

Ah, the honorable United Nations.
Aid workers traded wheat and life-saving medicines for sex with children in crisis zones, it has emerged.

Humanitarians traded 'oil, bulgur wheat, tarpaulin or plastic sheeting, medicines, transport, ration cards, loans, education courses and skills training' with girls aged 13 to 18.

The report, written in 2001, shows officials knew of the alleged abuse in Africa a decade before the Oxfam sex scandal, where chiefs were accused of concealing findings of an inquiry into claims staff paid for prostitutes in disaster-struck Haiti in 2011.

Underage girls were also asked to pose naked for pictures and rooms were rented for sex, the report by Save the Children and the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) reveals....

The UNHCR and Save the Children probe shows abuse was rife in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

While security forces pooled cash to have sex with children, aid workers withheld provisions for children unless sex was given.

One refugee in Guinea told investigators aid workers would ask for sex in exchange for a kilo of lifesaving soya nutrients.

A teenage girl in Liberia said: 'It's difficult to escape the trap of those people. They use food as bait to get you to have sex with them.'

More than 40 aid agencies working in West Africa were named in the report along with 67 individuals.

It says the majority of children consulted said they knew of at least one other child involved in an exchange that involved trading sex for life-saving commodities.

In some cases, children as young as four were sexually harassed.

It states: 'Girls between the ages of four and 12 were also reported as being sexually harassed, either verbally or through touching of buttocks, breasts, or genitals. Children said boys of their age group also did the same, but that adult males were mostly responsible.
Why people think that slapping a United Nations or NGO label on someone will automatically guarantee moral behavior is beyond me. The real scandal is how long such sexual crimes were allowed to go on as these people exploited the most vulnerable women.

Women's gymnastics wasn't the only sport hiding a horror of sexual abuse. It seems that sexual abuse was prevalent also in USA Swimming for years and those in charge knew about it and didn't do anything.
USA Swimming repeatedly missed opportunities to overhaul a culture within American swimming where the sexual abuse of underage swimmers by their coaches and others in positions of power within the sport was commonplace and even accepted by top officials and coaches, according to the documents and interviews with sexual abuse survivors, former Olympians, USA Swimming officials, safe sport advocates and some of USA Swimming’s leading financial benefactors.

The Southern California News Group investigation found:

• Top USA Swimming executives, board members, top officials and coaches acknowledge in the documents that they were aware of sexually predatory coaches for years, in some cases even decades, but did not take action against them. In at least 11 cases either Wielgus or other top USA Swimming officials declined to pursue sexual abuse cases against high profile coaches even when presented with direct complaints, documents show. With some of the complaints, the decision not to pursue the case was made by Susan Woessner, USA Swimming’s current director of Safe Sport.

For example, three U.S. Olympic team head coaches, and a USA Swimming vice president were told in the 1980s that a world-renowned coach has sexually abused a female swimmer beginning when she was 12. Wielgus was informed of allegations against the coach at least three times in recent years. But not only did USA Swimming not pursue a case against the coach, it allowed him to continue to have access to USA Swimming facilities, U.S. Olympic and national team events, and the Olympic Training Center. USA Swimming even awarded the club owned and operated by him more than $40,000 in grants. The coach was only banned after pleading guilty to sexual assault, more than a quarter-century after the abuse was first brought to the attention of the Olympic coaches.

• In the more than 20 years since Wielgus took charge of USA Swimming in July 1997, at least 252 swim coaches and officials have been arrested, charged by prosecutors, or disciplined by USAS for sexual abuse or misconduct against individuals under 18. Those coaches and officials have a total of at least 590 alleged victims, some of them abused while attending pre-school swim classes.

• USA Swimming board members and coaches acknowledged they were aware of statutory rape cases that occurred during U.S. national team trips to major international competitions.

• USA Swimming since at least 2010 has kept a list of more than 30 coaches and officials “flagged” by USA Swimming officials after being arrested or accused by law enforcement of sex crimes including rape and child pornography, but not disciplined by USA Swimming. Some coaches and officials on the “flagged” list have not been banned even after they have been convicted of felonies. Of the 32 people on the “flagged list” in 2010, only six have been subsequently banned by USA Swimming.
What the blankety blank is wrong with these people? One question that kept going through my mind as we heard the details of Larry Nassar's abuse and assault of young gymnasts was why were so many people willing to close their eyes to this guy's abuse. What was so special about him that he was protected by officials at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State? I have the same question about all these swimming coaches. Why were they worthy of protection at the expense of they young girls they were abusing? And that protection hasn't been cheap.
USA Swimming spent $7.45 million on legal fees between 2006 and 2016, according to the organization’s financial records, nearly 10 times the amount USA Track & Field paid in on legal fees during that same period.

In the l three years USA Swimming officials, under pressure from their secondary insurance carrier and wanting to avoid the negative publicity a lawsuit would generate, has arranged settlement agreements in at least three states with victims of alleged sexual abuse by swim coaches before the cases were even filed with a court.

All-new Echo

Echo Dot

Echo Plus

The Washington Examiner reports on how Instagram has caved in to Putin in allowing the Russian leader to determine which posts critical of Putin will not appear on their platform.
Zuckerberg’s company, the owner of Instagram, has caved to pressure from Moscow and has agreed to suppress Instagram posts that Putin's critics have dug up and presented as concrete evidence of astounding official corruption.

Alexei Navalny, leader of the political opposition, alerted the world this week to Instagram posts that gave Russians and others a rare look at the high-flying lifestyle that government officials enjoy. In contrast to Putin’s manufactured image as a selfless public servant, the posts show Russia’s deputy prime minister, a powerful Putin ally, socializing on a yacht owned by Russian industrialist Oleg Deripaska, on a trip where the available evidence strongly hints they traded corrupt favors. The two men also tried to conceal the fact of their meeting, with the deputy prime minister leaving the yacht before it returned to port.

In a video showcasing these posts about the yacht trip, along with other evidence of corruption, Navalny presents a compelling case that the official was also brought there on the oligarch’s plane. He states that the free trip, the free jaunt on the yacht, and the prostitutes on board would probably all count as bribes, if Russia had honest law enforcement or courts.

Navalny throws in drone footage showing this lifetime civil servant’s 17,000-square-foot mansion on seven acres of land. Navalny notes that this Russian official reports on his official disclosure forms that his wife has made millions of dollars in recent years, even though she has no job and owns no other sources of income. This all screams of a huge source of illicit income for one of the most powerful officials in Russia. (Deripaska, by the way, has also been in the news in connection with former lobbyist and erstwhile Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.)

Americans take for granted that Putin’s regime and its top officials are kleptocrats, but the regime tries to prevent most Russians from seeing this. That’s one reason Putin’s approval ratings are so high in Russia — he controls the news, and his enemies can expect to be at least harassed, at worst assassinated.

Navalny’s muckraking represents a sudden threat to Putin, which is why his regime put so much pressure on Zuckerberg to help him by blocking the posts under the flimsy pretext that the video violated Deripaska’s privacy on his yacht. That Zuckerberg capitulated in this matter, choosing to collude with the Putin dictatorship in suppressing real news is a sickening and saddening development.

Jim Geraghty reminds us of how silly the Russian-bought Facebook ads were during the election and concludes that if Hillary's voters saw those ads and voted against her, those voters were never really in her camp to begin with. Remember these ads with Hillary wearing devil horns and boxing with Jesus or the buff, shortless Bernie? Geraghty writes,
You may recall that most of the social-media materials the Russians were posting were not sophisticated messages or images. If anything, they were so over-the-top that they seemed too ridiculous to be genuinely persuasive. I mean, if you’re swayed by an image that suggests that Hillary Clinton is the devil and she wants to get into a boxing match with Jesus Christ. . . I’m pretty sure you were probably leaning against her already. The woman’s gotten into a heck of a lot of scandals, but I don’t think she’s ever explicitly challenged the Son of God to get into the UFC Octagon with her.

And if Hillary Clinton supporters really want to argue that they lost the votes of a segment of progressives because Bernie Sanders supporters were persuaded by muscular-Bernie cartoons. . . look, if that’s really the case, then it’s not Russia’s, Trump’s, or the Republicans’ fault that a part of the Democratic base is a bunch of easily-distracted shallow idiots. If your voters are getting deterred by doodles, they never really were “your” voters.

How do you get someone to believe a lie? It’s much easier if the mark wants to believe before the con begins. Right now, we have a lot of Americans who are quite eager to believe the worst about prominent figures on the other side. They choose not to distinguish between “I strongly disagree with this person’s political views” and “this person is terrible in every conceivable way.” That’s why we have Americans convinced that Obama was born overseas, and why we have Americans who believe the “pee tape” and evidence of Trump conspiring with Vladimir Putin is out there somewhere.

Last week, Geraghty called for an accurate discussion of guns instead of the misleading arguments such as that there have been 18 school shootings already this year.
We keep hearing, “we need to have a national conversation about guns,” and then we keep hearing statements from those same voices that are simply not true. If we’re going to have that national conversation, I want the other side to do its homework first.

I don’t want to hear CNN lamenting that Florida doesn’t require a concealed carry permit for an AR-15 or shotgun. (They are too large to conceal.) I don’t want to hear people referring to the AR-15 as an “automatic assault weapon” and I want them to learn the difference between automatic and semiautomatic, and which kind is already illegal. I don’t want to hear about “the gun show loophole” unless the shooter purchased his gun at a gun show. (To the best of my knowledge, not a single mass-shooter has done so.) I want former presidents to stop asserting that it’s easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than buy a computer or a book.

If someone wants to ban AR-15s, I want them to say so. I also want to know what they want to do about the 5 million to 10 million AR-15s already in private hands. I want them to realize that if they don’t grandfather in the already-owned ones, they will instantly turn millions of law-abiding Americans, who have never fired a shot in anger, into criminals. If a gun control advocate proposes a buyback program like Australia’s, I want that person to recognize that the compliance rate down under was about 20 percent and it created a violent black market for guns. If a gun control advocate calls for law enforcement to confiscate AR-15s from private homes, I want that person to realize that they’re calling for violent chaos. And I want them to know that as long as groups advocate ideas like this, the line “no one wants to take away your guns” is a disingenuous lie.
Jeff Sanders links to this column by Dave Kopel and Joseph Greenle from November, 2017 that lists all sorts of proposed gun laws that just so happen to already be laws!
For people convicted of domestic violence, even a misdemeanor, how about a lifetime prohibition on firearms possession?

Further, a government license should be required for anyone who wants to manufacture, import, or sell firearms. The license should be mandatory not only for formal businesses, but also for individuals who make repetitive transactions for the purpose of profit. This would cover people at gun shows who put up signs declaring themselves to be “unlicensed dealers.” Anyone who engages in the firearms business without a federal license should be punished by up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Manufacturers, importers, and dealers who are granted a federal license should have to keep meticulous records of every transaction. Their records and inventory should be subject to warrantless, random inspections by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). If a license-holder goes out of business, all the records of past sales should be delivered to the ATF.

Before a gun store can sell a firearm to an ordinary citizen, the citizen should have to get government approval. This should apply not only to storefront sales, but also if the retailer rents a table at a gun show. As for the Internet, retailers can be allowed to advertise there, but the actual transfer of a firearm should only be allowed at the retailer’s place of business.

The purchaser should be required to answer dozens of questions certifying her background information. It is important that the government know the purchaser’s race, and whether or not she is Hispanic. Before the sale is consummated, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a state counterpart ought to be contacted for a background check on the purchaser.

Any customer who purchases two or more handguns in a week should be automatically flagged and reported to the federal government and to local law enforcement.

Every handgun manufacturer should require handgun buyers to purchase a safe storage device for every handgun. Even if the buyer owns a gun safe, the buyer should always be forced to buy a separate locking device.
The list goes on and on. I didn't know about half of those laws. Geraghty is right that it would help if people spouting off on TV knew a bit more about what they were talking.
If you think that this legal system would make firearms the most-regulated common consumer product in the United States, you would be correct. Every one of the above restrictions is already federal law, and has been for decades. A few of these date back to the 1980s or 1990s. Most of them are from the Gun Control Act of 1968. The tax and registration laws on automatics are from the National Firearms Act of 1934.

For decades researchers have found that many Americans do not understand how strict gun control laws already are. Some elected officials and journalists are similarly misinformed. Widespread ignorance about existing law makes things easier for anti-gun lobbyists who always insist that every notorious crime proves that we need more gun control laws.
And now, there is hope that a bipartisan gun bill written by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut is working its way through the Senate.
The bill came as a result of the shooting in Texas where the gunman killed 26 people at a church. The shooter had previously been imprisoned for domestic abuse, but the Air Force didn't convey that information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which should have prevented him from buying the guns used in the mass shooting.
So the law would basically try to enforce laws that are already on the books.
It would ensure that federal and state authorities comply with existing law and require them to report criminal history records to the NICS.

The bill would hold federal agencies accountable if they fail to upload records to the background check system by blocking bonus pay for political appointees in agencies that fail to upload records to the background check system.

Under the Constitution, the federal government can't force the states to do something, so the bill uses financial incentives to encourage them to upload the records -- but it is able to mandate that federal agencies comply.

The bill wouldn't strengthen background checks, but it could have prevented Devin Kelley, the gunman in the Texas shooting, from being able to purchase a gun because he had been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and for assault on their child while serving in the Air Force and then received a "bad conduct" discharge in 2014.

The Air Force acknowledged the convictions were not properly transferred to the law enforcement database that would have allowed them to show up on an background check.
This is government, folks, where they have to pass laws enforcing the laws they've already passed.

Tools and Home Improvement

Today’s Deals

Fashion Sales and Deals

NBC News decided to investigate how dirty exactly San Francisco is. The answer - plenty filthy.
How dirty is San Francisco? An NBC Bay Area Investigation reveals a dangerous mix of drug needles, garbage, and feces throughout downtown San Francisco. The Investigative Unit surveyed 153 blocks of the city – the more than 20-mile stretch includes popular tourist spots like Union Square and major hotel chains. The area – bordered by Van Ness Avenue, Market Street, Post Street and Grant Avenue – is also home to City Hall, schools, playgrounds, and a police station.

As the Investigative Unit photographed nearly a dozen hypodermic needles scattered across one block, a group of preschool students happened to walk by on their way to an afternoon field trip to citiy hall.

“We see poop, we see pee, we see needles, and we see trash,” said teacher Adelita Orellana. “Sometimes they ask what is it, and that’s a conversation that’s a little difficult to have with a 2-year old, but we just let them know that those things are full of germs, that they are dangerous, and they should never be touched.”

....The Investigate Unit spent three days assessing conditions on the streets of downtown San Francisco and discovered trash on each of the 153 blocks surveyed. While some streets were littered with items as small as a candy wrapper, the vast majority of trash found included large heaps of garbage, food, and discarded junk. The investigation also found 100 drug needles and more than 300 piles of feces throughout downtown....

“If you do get stuck with these disposed needles you can get HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and a variety of other viral diseases,” said Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert at University of California, Berkeley. He warned that once fecal matter dries, it can become airborne, releasing potentially dangerous viruses, such as the rotavirus. “If you happen to inhale that, it can also go into your intestine,” he said. The results can prove fatal, especially in children....

Based on the findings of the Investigative Unit survey, Riley believes parts of the city may be even dirtier than slums in some developing countries.

“The contamination is … much greater than communities in Brazil or Kenya or India,” he said. He notes that in those countries, slum dwellings are often long-term homes for families and so there is an attempt to make the surroundings more livable. Homeless communities in San Francisco, however, are often kicked out from one part of town and forced to relocate to another. The result is extreme contamination, according to Riley.
Think of what people pay to live in the city and this is what they're living with. They're walking their children to school through needles and poop. People are paying an average of $3405 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. And for that privilege, they also get to dodge human waste and all those germs plus discarded needles when they step outside their homes.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Cruising the Web

It seemed that we already knew the gist of what the Mueller investigation and Justice Department reported on Friday about Russia's attempted interference in the election. For anyone who remembers Soviet attempts at dezinformatsiya during the Cold War shouldn't be shocked that Putin's government wanted to sow discord in American politics. According to Wikipedia's entry on disinformation, the whole concept began as early as 1923 and continued throughout the Cold War and afterwards. Wikipedia points to the book Disinformation by Ion Mihai Pacepa, former senior official from the Romanian secret police and Ronald J. Rychlak for a history of how our country's enemies were able to take advantage of leftists in the media to plant their stories.
The black propaganda division was reported to have formed in 1955 and was referred to as the Dezinformatsiya agency. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Colby explained how the Dezinformatsiya agency operated, saying that it would place a false article in a left-leaning newspaper. The fraudulent tale would make its way to a Communist periodical, before eventually being published by a Soviet newspaper, which would say its sources were undisclosed individuals. By this process a falsehood was globally proliferated as a legitimate piece of reporting.
To quote more from Wikipedia,
The extent of Soviet disinformation covert operation campaigns, came to light through the defections of KGB officers and officers of allied Soviet bloc services from the late 1960s through the 1980s. Disorder during the fall of the Soviet Union revealed archival and other documentary information to confirm what the defectors had revealed. Stanislav Levchenko and Ilya Dzerkvilov defected from the Soviet Union and by 1990 each had written books recounting their work in the KGB on disinformation operations.

In 1961, a pamphlet was published in the United Kingdom titled: A Study of a Master Spy (Allen Dulles), which was highly critical of then-Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles.] The purported authors were given as Independent Labour Party Member of Parliament Bob Edwards and reporter Kenneth Dunne—when in actual fact the author was senior disinformation officer KGB Colonel Vassily Sitnikov.

An example of successful Soviet disinformation was the publication in 1968 of Who's Who in the CIA which was quoted as authoritative in the West until the early 1990s.

According to senior SVR officer Sergei Tretyakov, the KGB was responsible for creating the entire nuclear winter story to stop the deployment of Pershing II missiles. Tretyakov says that from 1979 the KGB wanted to prevent the United States from deploying the missiles in Western Europe and that, directed by Yuri Andropov, they distributed disinformation, based on a faked "doomsday report" by the Soviet Academy of Sciences about the effect of nuclear war on climate, to peace groups, the environmental movement and the journal AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment....

On 17 September 1980, White House Press Secretary Jody Powell acknowledged a falsified Presidential Review Memorandum on Africa reportedly stated the U.S. endorsed the apartheid government in South Africa and was actively committed to discrimination against African Americans. Prior to this revelation by Powell, an advance copy of the 18 September 1980 issue of San Francisco-based publication the Sun Reporter was disseminated, which carried the fake claims. Sun Reporter was published by Carlton Benjamin Goodlett, Presidential Committee member of the Soviet front group the World Peace Council. U.S. President Jimmy Carter was appalled at these lies and subsequently the Carter Administration displayed increased interest in CIA efforts to counter Soviet disinformation.

In 1982, the CIA issued a report on active measures used by Soviet intelligence. The report documented numerous instances of disinformation campaigns against the U.S., including planting a notion that the U.S. had organized the 1979 Grand Mosque seizure, and forgery of documents purporting to show the U.S. would utilize nuclear bombs on its NATO allies.

Operation INFEKTION was an elaborate disinformation campaign which began in 1985, to influence world opinion to believe that the United States had invented AIDS. This included the allegation that the purpose was the creation of an 'ethnic bomb' to destroy non-whites. In 1992, the head of Russian foreign intelligence, Yevgeny Primakov, admitted the existence of the Operation INFEKTION disinformation campaign. (See the original for footnotes and sources)
Should anyone be surprised that Putin, a former KGB official, would have approved the use of such a dezinformatsiya campaign these days?

And how easy it was for him. THe Russians could take advantage of our very partisan and divided country to plant little seeds of ugliness. Social media allows them to do this much more efficiently and cheaply than back in the Cold War days. The fact that a lot of these bots were putting forth information that hurt Clinton and supported Trump just seems like a practical effort to hurt the woman they and everyone in the U.S. media thought would be the next president. It also explains why their bots also supported Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.

Sure they tried to organize marches and rallies, but as Stephen McIntyre points out, these marches didn't garner much support except for the post-election one in New York City for "Trump is not my President."

All-new Echo

Echo Dot

Echo Plus

The fact that these bots were pretty low-key and the marches they advertised rather minimal makes me wondered if this was just an experiment for Putin to see how much disruption they could generate through these activities. Of course, they couldn't imagine that Trump would win and then his first year would be hamstrung by all these allegations of collusion with the Russians. They couldn't have hoped for anything like the impact they had with a few bots. It must seem like it all succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Andrew McCarthy poses
a good question. Why are our investigations of this Russian dezinformatsiya being conducted by lawyers?
Our government says Russia is levying war. It is attacking a foundational institution — the electoral system of our democratic society and, more basically, our society’s cohesion as such. Our response should not be, nor appear to be, the filing of a lawsuit. That is provocatively weak.

The Russia probe has been a counterintelligence investigation, as it should be. That is why I’ve complained from the first that it was inappropriate to put a prosecutor in charge of it.... The main thrust of this complaint has been that a prosecutor should not be assigned unless there is first strong evidence of a crime. But that is not the half of it.

A government lawyer is a hammer who sees every problem as the nail of a lawsuit. As we saw in the Clinton and Obama years (and will tend to see in transnational-progressive governments that prize legal processes over the pursuit of national interests by the most effective means available), administrations dominated by government lawyers find even belligerent provocations by a foreign power to be fit for judicial resolution.

To the contrary, we use counterintelligence rather than criminal investigation to thwart foreign adversaries because prosecution is a woefully inadequate response. The point of counterintelligence is to gather information so we can stop our enemies, through meaningful retaliation and discouragement. Generally, that means diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and, in extreme cases, military means. It could mean deploying our own cyber capabilities. The idea is not to invade every rogue nation. It is to respond to provocations in a manner that hurts our rivals — conveying that the prohibitive cost we will exact makes attacking us against their interests.

That cannot be accomplished by a mere indictment on which no one will be tried.
He's exactly right. Those Russians who were indicted last week are safely away in Russia. We're not going to ever get them into a courtroom. What are doing to defend against these attacks?
There are reasons besides ineffectiveness to be concerned about turning this diplomatic dispute into a criminal-justice issue.

This is a dangerous game to play. Our government, American organizations, and individual Americans regularly take actions and engage in political expression (including pseudonymous expression) with the intention of affecting foreign political campaigns — or that could be understood that way regardless of American intent. In its lead story on Mueller’s indictment, the New York Times observes that “for decades,” the CIA has “work[ed] covertly to influence political outcomes abroad.” The Obama administration, on the American taxpayer’s dime, tried to get Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu defeated and agitated against Brexit. The Bush administration tried to democratize the Middle East. It is de rigueur to tut-tut that such meddling is unseemly, but it is what governments do and have always done. They have interests, and those interests can be profoundly affected by who is governing other countries.

Moreover, it is the proud boast of the United States that we promote the virtues and benefits of liberty throughout the world and encourage oppressed peoples to stand up against tyrants. Our government funds Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty precisely to expose people to news and ideas that their despotic governments censor. Do we really want to signal that we see such agitation-by-information as an indictable crime, in response to which the affected government should issue arrest warrants that will inevitably make it risky for Americans to travel outside the U.S.?

Remember, we are talking here about a case in which Russia’s campaign, despite its energy and funding, was a drop in the ocean of American campaign spending and messaging. It barely registered. It had no impact. And, again, the indictment that has been filed is a gesture that will result in no prosecutions. Is it really worth opening this can of worms?
Good point.

Steven Hayward puts forth a reasonable explanation of what the Russians were up to.
Why did the Russians do this? Because they could. It was useful for them to discover how much they could infiltrate the political process in the U.S., and above all to sow chaos. Actually favoring a Trump victory over Hillary makes little sense on substance, because most of Trump’s foreign policy positions—cheaper energy, expanded defense spending by us and NATO, more missile defense—are averse to Russian interests. But an election result that leaves chaos in its wake works perfectly well whether Hillary had won or Trump. In that sense, the Russian operation has been a sweeping success for them. Maybe our media ought to reflect that they are serving Russian interests very well with their rabid sensationalism of the “collusion” story.

Ah, the bots are still at it.
Russia-linked bots are promoting pro-gun messages on Twitter in an attempt to sow discord in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting, monitoring groups say.

Hashtags, topics and URLs related to the shooting overwhelmingly feature in the tweets pushed by these automated Twitter accounts in the past 48 hours, according to Hamilton 68, a tool launched by the Alliance for Securing Democracy to track what it describes as "Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts online."

....Among the hashtags and topics related to the shooting are #falseflag, #fbi, #gunreformnow, #fbigate, #parklandschoolshooting, the name of the shooter -- Nikolas Cruz -- and Florida.

Another bot-tracking website,, reports that all but one of the top two-word phrases used in the past 24 hours by 1,500 political propaganda bots were connected to the shooting: "gun control," "Nikolas Cruz," "school shooting," "school shooter" and "fake news." The exception was "President Trump."

Hashtags calling for gun reform and gun control are also topping the list. Unlike Hamilton 68, which targets bots related to the Russian government, tracks accounts that generally spread political propaganda.

Cybersecurity and media experts are not surprised that trolls and bots are leveraging the Florida school shooting to cause divisions.
"This pattern of divisive propaganda is becoming a staple in information warfare fueled by social media, but it isn't exactly new," Marco T. Bastos, researcher at City, University of London and co-author of a paper on a network of pro-Brexit bots, told CNN. "Similar campaigns can be traced to at least 2014."

....The reason why these accounts seize on shootings like the Parkland school one is not ideological, but to amplify "extreme and divisive causes" in a bid to create "a distracted and weakened US government," Grozev said.

"Gun control is simply one of those causes," he said. "It is not in any way an ideological preference for Russia to have less gun control in the US. It is, however, the perfect divisive cause."

If the intent is not ideological, but to sow discord in American society, that could help explain why Russian-related bots are spreading hashtags calling for gun control laws and reforms.

"Such hashtags serve mostly as bait: they serve to attract 'opposing view' readers, which results in explosive and discordant online mutual shouting -- in place of any reasonable debate, which would not be in the interest of Russia," Grozev said.
Maybe, if people become more aware of how their opinions and reactions are being manipulated by Russian bots, they'll stop getting so worked up by what they see on social media.

Probably not. But one always hope.

Interesting Finds at Amazon: Updated Daily

Grocery and Gourmet Food

Home and Garden

Byron York points out that we already knew most of what was in that indictment.
Another is that, combining the 37-page indictment with testimony from social media executives before congressional intelligence committees — and there isn't much in the indictment that the intel committees didn't already know — the Russian operation, while warranting serious U.S. punishment, emerges as a small, poorly funded operation with a level of effectiveness that is impossible to measure but could be near zero.
The Russians weren't focused on Trump until he emerged as the leader for the GOP nomination.
There's no evidence the Russians thought Trump had a chance to win, just like no U.S. political experts thought Trump had a chance to win. The goal was to harass Clinton — candidate Clinton and then President Clinton — with a modern, social-media version of old-fashioned Soviet disinformation campaigns.

The indictment is vague on what the Russians spent. It says that by September 2016, nearly the end of the campaign, the operation spent about $1.25 million a month. But in terms of what the Russians paid for social media ads, the indictment just says "thousands" of dollars every month.

The sums are rounding errors in a race in which the Clinton and Trump campaigns spent a combined $2.4 billion.

Facebook officials gave more details in statements and testimony before the Senate and House intelligence committees a few months ago. First, Facebook said the Russian operation bought about 3,000 ads, spending about $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram combined. That is compared to about $81 million the Clinton and Trump campaigns spent on Facebook and Instagram combined.

Facebook estimated about 11 million people saw at least one of the ads between 2015 and 2017. But that wasn't all before the election. Facebook said that of ad "impressions" — that is, how many times an ad appeared on screen in a person's news feed — just 44 percent came before the election, while 56 percent came after the election.

About 25 percent of the ads were never seen by anyone, Facebook said. And of the total ads, "The vast majority…didn't specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a particular candidate."

Looking at key states, the total spent on ads targeting Wisconsin was $1,979, according to Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr. Ad spending in Michigan was $823. In Pennsylvania, it was $300.

That is not the stuff of rigging elections....

"This equals about four-thousands of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content," Facebook executive Colin Stretch said in prepared testimony before the Senate last November.

Kevin Williamson is harsh, but very accurate in his judgment of the FBI bureaucrats who failed to follow up on the very detailed warning they received on the Parkland shooter's threats to shoot up his school. Too often progressives seem to think that government bureaucrats are some sort of magical creatures who are less fallible and more neutral than ordinary human beings. All we need are the perfect laws and we can set these magical bureaucrats loose to carry those laws out and all will be copacetic. But time and again, we learn that government bureaucrats are incompetent or corrupt or lazy or stupid. But that doesn't seem to change progressives' faith in how government will be able to solve the most complicated of problems if we just let those bureaucrats free to work their magic.
The guiding principle of American law enforcement is that it is easiest to enforce the law on law-abiding people, while enforcing the law on outlaws is something that looks terrifyingly close to hard work. That’s why gun control so ensorcels the bureaucratic mind. (Which is to say, the progressive mind: The essence of progressivism is replacing organic institutions with permanent bureaucracies.) If you are a federal law-enforcement agent with a comfy desk chair, you probably cannot imagine a more attractive anticrime program than gun control. Gun dealers have federal licenses, and they have to apply for them: You don’t have to go tracking them down — they come to you. They fill out paperwork. They generally operate from fixed addresses with regular business hours. Convenient! What you have is the power of political interposition, which is a mild form of terrorism....

Chasing down fleet-footed 18-year-old criminals through the rough parts of Chicago on a cold February evening? That’s work. And that’s why we don’t do squat to prosecute actual gun crimes — the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago won’t even look at a straw-buyer case unless it’s a major organized-crime enterprise — but we twist ourselves into knots to figure out how to create new hoops for federally licensed firearms dealers and their customers to jump through every time some pasty-faced virgin shoots up a school.

Chasing around pasty-faced virgins is work, too. Sometimes, you have to go so far as to pick up the phone.

As was reported on Friday, the FBI had been alerted that a particular pasty-faced virgin down in Florida was probably going to shoot up his old school. He had put up social-media posts to that effect, cleverly shielding his identity from the steely-eyed G-men by signing his legal name to those public threats. The epigones of J. Edgar Hoover may not be Sherlock Holmes, but presumably they can read, and some public-minded citizen took some screen shots and sent them to the FBI.

The FBI of course did what the relevant authorities did in the case of Omar Mateen, the case of Nidal Hasan, the case of Adam Lanza: nothing.

We could replace these guys with trained monkeys, if we could train monkeys to be self-important.

The Friday press conference on that little oversight was a masterpiece of modern bureaucracy. The FBI has “protocols” for handling specific credible threats of that sort, “protocol” here being a way of saying, “Pick up the phone and call the local field office or, if we really want to get wild, the local police.” “The protocol was not followed,” the FBI bureaucrats explained. Well, no kidding. Why not? No answer — the question wasn’t even asked aloud. Did law enforcement’s ball-dropping mean that a preventable massacre went unprevented because of bureaucratic failure? “I don’t think anybody could say that,” says Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who is leading the investigation. His department had over the years received no fewer than 20 calls related to the shooter. What about that? “Make no mistake about it, America, the only one to blame for this incident is the killer himself,” which is exactly the sort of thing a sanctimonious schmuck says when he doesn’t want to consider the institutional failures right in front of his taxpayer-subsidized nose and the culpable negligence — to say nothing of the sand-pounding stupidity — of his own agency.

The FBI has a budget of $3.5 billion, almost all of which goes to salaries, benefits, and other personnel costs. Do you know how many employees the FBI field office in South Florida has? It has more than 1,000. Do you know how many employees the FBI has in total? It has 35,158 employees. It has 13,084 agents and 3,100 intelligence analysts.

And not one of them could pick up the phone to forward vital intelligence gathered by the grueling investigative work of picking up the phone and taking a tip from a tipster. Would the sheriff have taken that call more seriously than his department took the 20 other calls relating to the killer? Impossible to say.
I don't agree with Williamson and Governor Rick Scott that FBI director Chris Wray should resign. He's been on the job just a short amount of time and it's a stretch to blame him for a culture of incompetence in South Florida. Let's see what happens going forward. We never really got complete answers on the other government screw-ups that allowed previous mass murderers to not be stopped before they did their evil. Are these local FBI, sheriff, and police departments incapable of following up on credible reports of suspicious behavior? Is there something else they need in order to be able to follow up these reports? Is the whole mantra of "see something; say something" just a nice slogan to make us feel like the authorities are capable of stopping crimes?

The other answer I'd like to know is what exactly the authorities can do if they get advance warning about the behavior of someone like the Parkland shooter. If he hasn't yet done anything and has just said creepy things and posted creepy stuff online, is there anything that can legally be done?

David French discusses
a gun control measure that gun-rights advocates should be able to endorse - gun-violence restraining orders (GVROs) that would act much like restraining orders do except for family members and friends to report someone in their family who could be regarded as threatening.
To understand the American gun-control debate, you have to understand the fundamentally different starting positions of the two sides. Among conservatives, there is the broad belief that the right to own a weapon for self-defense is every bit as inherent and unalienable as the right to speak freely or practice your religion. It’s a co-equal liberty in the Bill of Rights, grounded not just in the minds of the Founders but in natural law.

Against this backdrop, most forms of gun control proposed after each mass killing represent a collective punishment. The rights of the law-abiding are restricted with no real evidence that these alleged “common sense” reforms will prevent future tragedies in any meaningful way.

Many progressives, however, simply don’t care about restrictions on gun ownership. They don’t view it as an individual right, much less an unalienable one. To them, the Second Amendment is an embarrassment, an American quirk that should be limited and confined as much as possible. To them, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and can be heavily regulated and restricted without doing any violence at all to individual liberty.

To describe these differences is not to say that the two sides never meet. Putting aside the relatively meaningless polls about various gun-control measures — the polls that truly matter are at the ballot box, and there the results are very clear and very distinct for both red and blue — there is broad conceptual agreement that regardless of whether you view gun ownership as a right or a privilege, a person can demonstrate through their conduct that they have no business possessing a weapon.

Felons, the dangerously mentally ill, perpetrators of domestic violence — these people have not only demonstrated their unfitness to own a weapon, they’ve been granted due process to contest the charges or claims against them. There is no arbitrary state action. There is no collective punishment. There is, rather, an individual, constitutional state process, and the result of that process is a set of defined consequences that includes revoking the right to gun ownership.
As he points out, many mass shooters have demonstrated the sort of behavior that, ex post, was a warning sign.
Time and again mass shooters give off warning signals. They issue generalized threats. They post disturbing images. They exhibit fascination with mass killings. But before the deadly act itself, there is no clear path to denying them access to guns. Though people can report their concerns to authorities, sometimes those authorities fail or have limited tools to deal with the emerging danger.

What if, however, there was an evidence-based process for temporarily denying a troubled person access to guns? What if this process empowered family members and others close to a potential shooter, allowing them to “do something” after they “see something” and “say something”?
Perhaps this is the sort of solution that Williamson indicates bureaucrats are more able to accomplish. It's paperwork rather than actual investigation.
The great benefit of the GVRO is that it provides citizens with options other than relying on, say, the FBI. As the bureau admitted today, it did not respond appropriately to a timely warning from a “person close to Nikolas Cruz.” According the FBI, that person provided “information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”

In other words, it appears the FBI received exactly the kind of information that would justify granting a GVRO.

Just since 2015, the Charleston church shooter, the Orlando nightclub shooter, the Sutherland Springs church shooter, and the Parkland school shooter each happened after federal authorities missed chances to stop them. For those keeping score, that’s four horrific mass shootings in four years where federal systems failed, at a cost of more than 100 lives.

In other words, proper application of existing policies and procedures could have saved lives, but the people in the federal government failed. And they keep failing. So let’s empower different people. Let’s empower the people who have the most to lose, and let’s place accountability on the lowest possible level of government: the local judges who consistently and regularly adjudicate similar claims in the context of family and criminal law.
As French argues, gun-rights advocates should endorse this idea because it doesn't interfere with the right to own a gun and the right of self-defense. It's specifically targeted at those people who should not own a gun.

Of course, President Trump couldn't leave well enough alone with the story about the FBI not taking action on the warnings they had about the Parkland shooter. He tweeted out this weekend, "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!"

Ugh. Yes, because the tragic killing of 17 people in a high school is really all about him. Is there anyone more solipsistic than Donald Trump. He just couldn't stop himself from a tasteless tweet trying to make political hay out of this tragedy. Doesn't he have any sense of how tasteless that tweet was? And if tastelessness is no deterrent for Trump, how about some sense of what is political beneficial for him? Stephen Miller (not the speechwriter, but a libertarian commentator) tweets,

Deals in Office Products

Deals in Home and Kitchen

Vitamins and Supplements

Deals on Gifts in Kitchen and Dining

This week, my AP Government class has been covering First Amendment cases and we discussed speech codes and hate speech. The students were somewhat surprised to learn that the Court's position is that laws banning hate speech are too broad and have been struck down unanimously. University school codes have been struck down at the district court level. After talking about it in small groups, the conclusion of many students was that they could understand why the courts have struck down such bans and codes, but they kinda, sorta wished that there was some magical way that hurtful speech could be banned while still upholding freedom of speech. When some other students invariably pointed out how difficult that was to do and how dangerous it might be to let some individuals at a university decide what is acceptable and what wasn't, those wishing for hate speech laws and speech codes agreed that it wouldn't work. But they still looked wistful. All it took was about a half hour of introducing them to what the courts have actually said to open their eyes to the inherent problems in such speech codes. I also asked them some questions from CATO's survey on Americans' views on freedom of speech and showed them the results. When I asked them if they ever felt prevented from saying things because of the political climate these days, they all seemed to feel pretty secure. Then I showed them this result from the survey matching up people's ideologies with their level of comfort saying what they believe.
My school is a pretty liberal school on most positions. I think that, in our school-wide election in 2016, Hillary won about 75% of the vote. And there were a lot of write-ins or minor-party votes. This is not Trump territory among either the staff or students. The students were struck by the disparities in how strong conservatives and strong liberals felt about voicing their opinions, partly I suspect because few of them hear conservative writers or speakers talking about this sort of thing. I asked them if they thought someone would feel comfortable voicing skepticism about climate change being caused by mankind, and they all burst out laughing and said a kid would get absolutely roasted for saying something like that in class. The same thing went for expressing opposition to transgenders in bathrooms or using the chosen pronouns for a transsexual or transgender student. Then there was a moment when a collective lightbulb went off among all of them of how a strong conservative could feel uncomfortable and why there were dangers of having some set of people, probably quite liberal university administrators, decide what speech was acceptable and what wasn't. All in all, I hope it was a thought-provoking lesson for them and maybe, just maybe, they'll be a bit more tolerant of views they don't agree with in high school, college, and life in general.

At least, they can now understand how absolutely stupid this Kentucky State University code of conduct regulation is.
The taxpayer-funded institution includes “embarrassment” on a list of punishable “offenses against persons” in its student code of conduct, flagged this week by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

It puts embarrassment in the same league as sexual assault, stalking, physical abuse and coercion.

Students suspected of this code violation will be investigated by the Office of Student Affairs and held “accountable for their behavior in a fair, yet developmental manner,” the code promises.

The university will take “necessary and appropriate action” to protect students from this offense, including deploying campus police to respond to off-campus accusations of causing embarrassment.

Some form of “embarrass” actually shows up six times in the code.

KSU defines hazing as “any action that results in … embarrassment.” Four elements of cyberbullying mention it: “misleading another to share embarrassing information,” forwarding private messages “with the intent to … embarrass,” sharing “embarrassing photos or videos” with others digitally, and “posing as an imposter online to embarrass or cause harm.”

That last element confirms that KSU knows that embarrassing someone is not the same as causing them harm.

Here is something that I'm wondering about. I remember that when Bill Clinton was going through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the media started reporting on two approval ratings - his personal rating and his presidential rating. His presidential rating was higher than his personal rating and the media discussed that in terms of people approving of what he was doing in office, but not his personal character. Here is a 2005 Gallup article contrasting both Bushes and Clinton in terms of both types of ratings. Gallup first started asking both questions in 1992. The Bushes were different from Clinton's second term in that their personal rating was higher than their presidential ratings. That all makes sense since, for a lot of people, both Bushes might have seemed like personally likeable and honorable, but people might have disapproved of what they were doing in office, particularly during George W. Bush's second term. I haven't seen those polls for Obama or Trump. Have any of my readers seen those numbers? I was just wondering if Trump rates about the same both personally and for the job he's doing in office. I would imagine that there might be some conservatives who approve the job he's doing more than they do of his personal character. I searched Gallup's site for a few minutes but didn't see the different ratings for Trump. I was just wondering why they started asking the question in 1992 and if or why they have stopped.

Now that Ronan Farrow has a new story about an affair that Trump purportedly had with a Playboy model that he met at Hugh Hefner's mansion right after his son, Barron, was born, we must acknowledge that our president is a man of low moral character. Not that anyone who lived through the gossip stories back when he was proudly cheating on his first wife with Marla Maples. He's even bragged about all the women he's slept with. People, even deeply religious people, decided that electing Hillary Clinton, a woman morally compromised in other ways, was worse than electing Donald Trump. That's why I think the differences in presidential and personal approval on Trump would be interesting to see.

I worry that we're becoming desensitized to the whole idea that our elected leaders should be fundamentally people of a moral character. Every president creates new precedents and Trump is creating a whole raft of distasteful precedents, but Barack Obama did too.