Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Religious Freedom, Negotiable

This can't end well.

Politico reports

Aides to President Donald Trump are drafting plans to condition U.S. aid to other countries on how well they treat their religious minorities, two White House officials said.

The proposal is expected to cover U.S. humanitarian assistance, and could also be broadened to include American military aid to other countries. If the proposal becomes reality, it could have a major effect on U.S. assistance in a range of places, from Iraq to Vietnam. Its mere consideration shows how much the White House prioritizes religious freedom, an emphasis critics say is really about galvanizing Trump’s evangelical Christian base.

But experts on U.S. aid also warn that picking and choosing which countries to punish could be a very difficult task, not least because several countries that are partners or allies of the United States have terrible religious freedom records.

Well, like maybe Saudi Arabia, where the Trump Administration sent 2800 additional soldiers last month to join the Patriot air defense battery and radars sent to Saudi Arabia in September. 

Riyadh has been cited by the State Department as one of the world's "worst violators" of religious freedom. But not to worry because

One strong likelihood is that any executive order will include a clause that gives the president or his designee the ability to exclude a country from aid restrictions on grounds that it is in the U.S. national security interest.

Nations which practice religious discrimination, especially if against Christians, may in fact be denied aid- except, of course, if they welcome Trump family business or agree to investigate rivals of the President.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Only November, And The Snowflakes Already Are Out

In a Real Time segment from 3/16, Bill Maher criticized some students at Emory University in Atlanta, at 2:40 of the video below stating "this is one story among many. It happens all the time on campus."

Because it captures our attention when it does, it may seem to be more common than it is. However, it happens too often, and recently at two major universities. At Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, The Daily Northwestern spanked itself while writing

On Nov. 5, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus at a Northwestern University College Republicans event. The Daily sent a reporter to cover that talk and another to cover the students protesting his invitation to campus, along with a photographer. We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward.

One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down. On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed. We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories. While our goal is to document history and spread information, nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe — and in situations like this, that they are benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.

"Ensuring that our fellow students feel safe" is more the responsibility of a college's administrative staff or campus police than that of a newspaper, whose mission should be informing its readers. If its not, there is little reason for continued existence of the publication.

Nearly one thousand miles to the east

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council voted to pass a statement at its meeting Sunday in support of immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream’s concerns about The Harvard Crimson’s news policies and made recommendations to make reporting policies more transparent.

The statement, passed 15-13-4, comes after The Crimson covered Act on a Dream’s “Abolish ICE” protest in September. After the protest, Crimson reporters contacted a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson for comment. More than 900 people and several student groups have since signed an Act on a Dream petition condemning The Crimson’s decision to reach out for comment.

You probably see this coming:

“The Undergraduate Council stands in solidarity with the concerns of Act on a Dream, undocumented students, and other marginalized individuals on campus,” the statement reads. “It is necessary for the Undergraduate Council to acknowledge the concerns raised by numerous groups and students on campus over the past few weeks and to recognize the validity of their expressed fear and feelings of unsafety.”

"Unsafety" isn't even a word. Nonetheless, when pandering to the fragile and self-centered, proper grammar is no more important than good reporting, which appears irrelevant to a newspaper disinterested in seeking comment from the target(s) of a protest. Reporting only one side of a story without regard to opposing perspectives is no way to commit journalism.

The press should strive to get all the news and get it right. In contrast, The Daily Northwestern concluded "Through our coverage, we know Northwestern students to be passionate, thoughtful and just. Every day, we strive to encapsulate all that you are and all that you deserve." "Encapsulate all that you are" sounds a lot like confirmation bias. Instead of striving to encapsulate the bias or values of its readers, campus newspapers should give them all they deserve- the facts as they are and not as we wish they would be.

The press should strive to get all the news and get it right. In contrast, The Daily Northwestern concluded "Through our coverage, we know Northwestern students to be passionate, thoughtful and just. Every day, we strive to encapsulate all that you are and all that you deserve." "Encapsulate all that you are" sounds a lot like confirmation bias. Instead of "striving to encapsulate the bias or values of its readers, campus newspapers should give them all their public all it deserves- the facts as they are and not as we wish they would be.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Continuing Problem

She did it again. Newsweek reports

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar has been accused of making a veiled anti-Semitic comment in a tweet about Michael Bloomberg.

While sharing an article on Twitter about Leon Cooperman expressing his support for "fellow billionaire" Bloomberg's possible run for president, Omar commented "I wonder why?" alongside a thinking face emoji.

Cooperman, the billionaire chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors, told CNBC on Friday that he would back the former mayor of New York City for president should he enter the race for the White House. He added that he would also help with fundraising as long as Bloomberg stuck with his moderate policies.

But while some viewed Omar's reaction to the article as an observation about "billionaires sharing similar political views", others believe she is implying that Cooperman's support for Bloomberg is because they are both Jewish—and accused her of anti-Semitism.

This may have been an anti-Semitic remark, a jab at two billionaires, or.... both.

It is most likely the first, though it is open to interpretation. But when seven months ago Representative Omar referred to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 as "some people did something" and President Trump slammed her, David Frum recognized

Against Omar’s propensity to provoke, the Democratic Party seems institutionally almost defenseless. Pelosi was thwarted when she attempted to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitic expressions by House members. Instead, the House substituted more muddled language in which Jews appeared in a laundry list condemning all expressions of intolerance against “African-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants and others.”

After Trump’s tweeted attack, Omar will become even more internally uncriticizable and unmanageable, without becoming any more careful or responsible. Indeed, the speech by Omar that provided Trump with the sound bite he exploited—“some people did something”—itself exemplifies her carelessness and irresponsibility. . The speech was delivered at a fundraiser in California for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Here’s the full sentence from which Trump took his sound bite: “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

CAIR was, in fact, founded seven years before 9/11.... 

Omar acted as Frum suspected she, either irresponsibly- knocking two guys because they're Jewish- or carelessly.  She could have made a reference to the wealth of the two men but failed to do so because she is intellectually incoherent or is congenial to bigotry. Having once tweeted "Israel has hypnotized the world," the anti-Semitic and/or linguistically Omar seems to have changed little.

Either way, the "carelessness and irresponsibility" Frum cited continues and will not go unnoticed by critics of the Democratic Party. However, the congresswoman's remark will not be condemned by Bernie Sanders nor any other Democratic candidate, the one because he has been endorsed by the Minnesota congresswoman, the others from a fear of being accused of slighting a "woman of color."

Rationalizing such remarks by noting that Donald Trump makes worse statements daily would be insufficient, possibly even futile. The very regularity of his incendiary comments renders him almost immune to criticism or shunning by a huge chunk of American voters. It is an extraordinary luxury, one no other American has claimed or can successfully claim, and that includes Ilhan Omar.

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Saturday, November 09, 2019

Biden's Dream Of Normalcy

When at  19:45 of the video below, Bill Maher characterizes the Democratic presidential nomination as a choice between "fundamental change" and "return to normalcy." Montana's Steve Bullock replies "this is a single issue election and that issue is beating Donald Trump."

Bullock has a blood brother in Delaware/Pennsylvania's Joseph Robinette Biden, who is either the most naive or the most dishonest (exception for the latter being anyone named "Trump") individual east of the Mississippi:

Bullock has an excuse because he's new to national politics. However, the guy whose hero nominated Merrick Garland, denied a hearing by Mitch McConnell for the United States Supreme Court, does not. Matt Yglesias evidently recognizes that and recently explained

Biden hasn’t served in the Senate since 2008, but nearly 20 Republicans — including key figures like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, moderates Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and dealmakers Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander — served alongside him. What’s more, precisely because of this history, Biden often served as an emissary from the Obama White House to Senate Republicans when the exigencies of governance required one.

If Senate Republicans sat down one day and decided that what they wanted to do was have a good-faith negotiation about how to strike some win-win deals that advance the main policy priorities of both sides, Biden would be a good person for them to sit down with.

But in terms of how likely that is, all Biden needs to do is look around at the current impeachment controversy. Senate Republicans know that Trump was trying to frame Biden. Heck, several Republican senators specifically and publicly urged the exact course of action on Ukraine that Biden took.

And on the Ukraine issue there is no ideological division between Biden and mainstream Republicans — they all share the US national security establishment’s hostility to Russia and support for the idea that the US should back efforts to pull Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence. It’s Trump who is the ideological outlier here, as well as the guy trying to smear one of their friends and former colleagues.

Yet nobody in the GOP is standing up for Biden or seeking to clear his good name. And the reasons aren’t mysterious: It’s politics. And in 2021, it will be politics, rather than epiphanies, that carry the day.

Whether through naivete or shared ideological perspective, Vice-President Biden revealed that he's willing to give Republicans a loaf of bread as long as they will leave him a slice. In that long line of evidence demonstrating that removing Donald Trump will not remove the GOP's fever (and bring about an epiphany), Judge Garland stands as only one, albeit the most obvious, example. 

We now have a Republican, considered by an adoring media to be one of the most reasonable and moderate Republicans who have served in the Trump Administration, keeping a straight face while remarking "On what? You're going to impeach a president for asking for a favor that didn’t happen and – and giving money and it wasn’t withheld?" I don't know what you would impeach him on."

Think harder, Nikki-  maybe extortion, attempted bribery, restructuring the presidency for personal financial enrichment, and abuse of office, nothing serious.

In 2008, Barack Obama could be excused when "with profound humility" he argued that his election would in the future be seen as 'the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." But this is eleven years later and, unamused by Biden's statement and perspective, Charlie Pierce (two days before CBS' excerpt of the Haley interview) wrote

Mark his words. Then ask Merrick Garland to mark them.

God love him, Joe Biden is going to ride this dinosaur until it drops dead underneath him. Which of "his" Republican colleagues is going to have this "epiphany"? Mitch McConnell? Tom Cotton, who, on Wednesday, started pitching for the next Mexican War? And what will this "epiphany" entail? A move away from radical deregulation and fringe Protestantism? Abandoning, at last, supply-side economics? My guess is that, if and when this administration* ends badly, the Republican Party will find itself compressed into a diamond of pure Id—angry, vengeful, and out for blood. The epiphany is likely to be a fiery reaction against anyone associated with anything these fevered minds believe is "liberal." I could be wrong. The sky could rain gumdrops.

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Friday, November 08, 2019

Bad Behavior, Overheated Response

Oh, good Lord, not again.

In mid-October, The Philadelphia Inquirer had reported

Photos of Westampton Township committee candidate Karl Eversmeyer dressed in blackface surfaced on Monday, igniting calls for his withdrawal from the November election and swaying the Burlington County GOP to pull its support for the Republican nominee.

The photos, which were found on Eversmeyer’s Facebook page and released to the media on Monday, show the 33-year-old wearing blackface makeup with a white button-down shirt, silver sunglasses, and a black flat-rim hat tilted sideways while holding a bottle of Hennessy.

Eversmeyer denies any racist intent and said he and his wife dressed up as Kanye West and Taylor Swift for his friend Phil’s Halloween party in 2009, which was one month after the notorious scandal between the rapper and the pop singer at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

“It was a great party. My friend Phil — and I don’t like to label anyone or describe them by their ethnicity or color, but for this, I guess I have to — he’s African American,” Eversmeyer said in a phone interview. He said that the majority of people at the party were Phil’s friends and family, who are also African American.

“I mean the thought of me dressing up as a racist to go to an African American party never really crossed my mind. It doesn’t make sense to do that,” he said. “They voted me for best costume. They couldn’t believe I was white, to be honest. They had no idea.”

Eversmeyer, who grew up in Beverly and moved to Westampton four years ago, said that he recently talked with Phil, whose last name was not provided, about the photo, and that his friend of 12 years “could not believe” people were calling him a racist. A person identified as “Phil G.,” who could not be reached for comment, provided a statement through Eversmeyer’s Facebook page that said:

“We requested and held a contest for our guests to come dressed up as something unique. Karl and his wife came as Kanye West and Taylor Swift after the the incident happened at the awards. No one took it as racist that attended the party everyone took it as he thought outside the box and won the best costume contest. Thank you for you time in reading the full side of the story. - Phil G.”

Cultural appropriation. Eversmeyer (as shown in video above) recognizes "by today's standards, with the cultural appropriation, I understand why people are upset...."

This was ten years ago but that is not the issue. It was surely not "racism"- the belief that one race is inherently inferior to another- and was not even racially hostile.

It was instead a case of cultural appropriation, which is always inappropriate, and consistently condoned, even applauded. It is why "ghetto" became the "hood" and affluent white suburbanite kids picked up on rap, the musical expression of the perspective of many young blacks (particularly in the inner city).   It is why a quarter century ago whites, observing usage among African-Americans of "diss," began using the same term- until a few years after it fell out of favor among blacks.

The Halloween incident obviously was of a piece with those, and other instances, of cultural appropriation.  Karl and his wife came as Kanye West and Taylor Swift after the incident happened at the awards, "Phil G" wrote.  It was simply a bad idea at another bad idea, Halloween parties for people beyond the ear;y years of adolescence.

Having black friends, even at a party hosted by a black friend- as was this one- should not inoculate an individual against the charge of racial bigotry. However, it should absolve someone against the charge that what he did was offensive. If it were offensive, action of whatever kind or degree should have- and would have- been taken then.

The winning Democratic candidate, incumbent committeeman/mayor John Wisniewski stated “Mr. Eversmeyer has yet to apologize to anyone that may be offended by these photos. I understand that it be cool between him and his circle of friends, but outside of that, people are upset."

That it be cool... Having been a middle-aged white man myself, I can verify that "be cool" is a middle-aged white man's idea of African-American jargon. And yet, Wisniewski called on his opponent "to apologize to anyone that may be offended by these photos."  That is considerable gall or, as I'd be tempted to appropriate, "chutzpah."

Karl Eversmeyer is a Republican, so there probably were reasons to defeat him. The incident from 2009, though, was not among them.

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Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Second Amendment Strikes Again... And Again.... And

This is not working.

A year ago, the ACLU of Pennsylvania explained

Bailey v. Philadelphia is a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in 2010 alleging that the Philadelphia police had a practice of stopping and frisking pedestrians without reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in criminal activity and of disproportionately stopping African-Americans and Latinos.

The consent degree which ensued in 2011 requires that stops be made only when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, that frisks only occur where the officer has reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous, and that these police interventions not be based on the suspect’s race or ethnicity.

Statistics demonstrated that blacks were stopped at a rate disproportionate to their numbers in a particular neighborhood.  This was unacceptable. However, in a not entirely unrelated matter 

A 10-year-old boy was hit in the head by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting in Philadelphia on Wednesday, just hours after the city’s mayor announced new plans to combat gun violence.

Semaj O’Branty, on his way home from school, had been waiting to meet his mother outside a corner store in the city’s northeastern neighborhood of Frankford when gunshots rang out, CBS Philly reported.

Violent crime is not uncommon inPhiladelphia. Still, the conscience was shocked when

Last month, two infants in Philadelphia were struck by stray bullets in separate incidents. Nikolette Rivera, 2, was killed on Oct. 20 when someone fired an automatic rifle into her family’s home. A day earlier, 11-month-old Yazeem Jenkins was shot four times while in the back seat of a car. He remained hospitalized and fighting for his life as of Monday.

Mayor Jim Kenney understands “We can continue to educate, to invest in education, to invest in prevention, to invest in police, to invest in all the things we invest in, but as long as the legislature and the U.S. Congress allow these guns in our society, we’re swimming upstream."

But there is something additional that can be done by Philadelphia and other cities plagued by violent crime, particularly those in states such as Pennsylvania which idolize guns.

That would be a constitutionally applied stop-and-frisk policy.  Given the requirements of due process mandated by the 14th Amendment, members of no one ethnic group can be differentially searched in numbers statistically significant from individuals of another group.

When a federal district court judge shot down New York City's stop and frisk policy in 2013, she wisely did so on the basis of the !4th Amendment, as well as- unwisely- on the basis of the 5th Amendment.   However, in the last six years this nation, especially in poor, minority communities, has continued to be beset by violence from firearms obtained in jurisdictions with particularly loose restrictions.

Though a greater investment in education, housing, and other social services would diminish the problem in the long run, preventive measures such as gun safety legislation and effective policing would have a more immediate effect.

An effective program of stop-and-frisk would not- as it has too often- include arrests for drug prevention. It must be focused entirely on the possession of illegal weapons and be conducted within a constitutional framework. It won't happen, of course; the left is enamored of criminal justice reform and the right of guns. But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

And West Of Beijing

While cynics doubt that Donald Trump can be considered a great president, we should heed the words of someone who keeps close watch on the political scene. The Daily Beast reports that recently

“Have you lost your minds that you want to remove our Donald Ivanovych?” asked Vladimir Soloviev, the host of the television show Evening with Vladimir Soloviev....

Several months earlier

“They say Trump is making Russia great. That’s basically accurate,” pointed out Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio and a prominent fixture on Russian state television. “The chaos brought by Trump into the American system of government is weakening the United States. America is getting weaker and now Russia is taking its place in the Middle East. Suddenly, Russia is starting to seriously penetrate Africa... So when they say that Trump is weakening the United States—yes, he is. And that’s why we love him... The more problems they have, the better it is for us.”

That was nearly eight months ago.However, in late September

Olga Skabeeva, the host of 60 Minutes, the most popular news talk show in Russia, predicted: “A Republican majority in the Senate won’t allow the president whom we elected, wonderful Donald Trump, to be sent off. It’s impossible. He has 90 percent support in the Republican Party.”

They know their Moscow Mitch. Trump truly is "wonderful" to some, and the reviews and the plaudits have kept coming. Following the President's removal last month of soldiers from northern Syria, abandoning the nation's second most loyal ally (and most loyal among those not Jewish) in the Mideast

“Putin won the lottery! Russia’s unexpected triumph in the Middle East,” raved Mikhail Rostovsky in his article for the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. “Those who were convinced of Trump’s uselessness for Russia ought to think again...What Washington got out of this strange move is completely unclear. To the contrary, what Moscow gained from this is self-evident...Trump’s mistake in Syria is the unexpected ‘lottery win’ that further strengthened Moscow’s position in the Middle East and undermined America’s prestige as a rational political player and a reliable partner.” 

Maksim Yusin, the editor of international politics at the leading Russian business daily Kommersant, was amazed by the ongoing stream of inexplicable actions by the American president that benefit the Kremlin. “All of this benefits the Russian Federation,” Yusin marveled. “You know, I’ve been watching Trump’s behavior lately and get seditious thoughts: maybe he really is a Russian agent? He is laboring so hard to strengthen the international image of Russia in general—and Putin in particular...In this situation, Americans—to their chagrin and our enjoyment—are the only losers in this situation.”

“This is such a pleasure,” grinned Olga Skabeeva, the host of Russia’s state television program 60 Minutes. “Russian soldiers have taken an American base under our complete control, without a fight!” Skabeeva’s co-host Evgeny Popov added: “Suddenly, we have defeated everyone.” Incredulously, Skabeeva pointed out: “This is an American base—and they just ran away! Trump ran away!”

“It’s been a long time since America has been humiliated this way,” gloated political analyst Mikhail Sinelnikov-Orishak, “They ran away in shame! I can’t recall such a scenario since Vietnam.” He added: “For us, this is of great interest, because this is a key region where energy prices are being determined. That is a shining cherry on top.” Political scientist Andrey Nikulin concurred: “This is sad for America. A smaller-scale version of what happened in Vietnam.”

At :22 of the video below, from 17-16 months ago, Trump states during the Special Counsel’s probe that included no direct interview of the President, “it’s a witch hunt, that’s all it is. There was no collusion with Russia, if you can believe this one.”  “If  you can believe this one” because he knows we can’t, or at least shouldn’t. In all fairness to a President who has trying to make a nation great, it’s not as if he and the Russian media haven’t been suggesting where his heart lies. Hint: it’s somewhere east of Berlin and north of Bucharest.

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Religious Freedom, Negotiable

This can't end well. Politico reports Aides to President Donald Trump are drafting plans to condition U.S. aid to other c...