Links for 6-5-2018

  • The Federalist published an article by Dr. Tom Coburn that says the only way to restore the U.S. Constitution is a convention of states.

  • Pessimistic takes on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission emerged today, including this one by Darel E. Paul:

    Jack Phillips and his lawyers leveled two distinct arguments in appealing his original conviction for violating the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The first argument asserted his First Amendment right to free speech. Phillips claimed that the creation and design of custom wedding cakes is an act of artistic expression protected by the Constitution, so that to force him by law to provide such a service against his will constitutes government-compelled speech. The second argument asserted Phillips’s First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Phillips claimed that his sincerely held religious beliefs forbade him from endorsing same-sex marriage, and that the creation and design of a custom wedding cake would amount to just such an endorsement.

    Contrary to the over-enthusiastic reactions of some cultural conservatives, the Court did not rule in favor of Phillips on either of these substantive grounds. Its opinion is based wholly on procedural wrongs committed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, wrongs that went uncorrected by the Colorado Court of Appeals. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy notes several derogatory comments about religion made by certain Commissioners hearing Phillips’s case. Kennedy clearly states that what is being violated here is Phillips’s entitlement to “neutral and respectful consideration” of his argument and a judicial process defined by “fairness and impartiality.” Because of the Commission’s “hostility” to religion, which was never corrected by higher Colorado courts, the process is tainted and the decision against Phillips is vacated.

    John Daniel Davidson points to an ominous footnote in the decision:

    A footnote in Justice Elena Kagan’s separate concurring opinion, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, points to the reasoning the court might have employed if it had engaged this larger question—and it doesn’t bode well for advocates of free speech and freedom of religion.

    Later:

    In other words, Phillips’s religious beliefs about marriage—beliefs, by the way, which are orthodox teachings in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—are not to be taken seriously. Nor is the notion that a baker who is asked to make a specialty cake that celebrates what is, for the baker, a religious ceremony, might be engaging in protected speech by creating that cake, in much the same way a photographer or any other artist does.

    For Kagan, the law may be construed to achieve a desired outcome, so long as those enforcing it don’t betray their animus toward certain religious beliefs.

    Here’s Andrew McCarthy’s take:

    In essence, Phillips won because the oxymoronic Colorado Civil Rights Commission was mean to him. The Court does not say how the commission should have decided the matter; it merely admonishes that, in future hearings, the commissioners must avoid being so indecorous, so overt in their hostility to unreconstructed Christians. Silent, smiling contempt is de rigueur: In the next case, just patiently hear out the baker, politely rule against him, and move on — no more grandstanding about how much religion sucks.

  • Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz personally tried to shut down the investigation into House IT aide Imran Awan, despite evidence uncovered by the House Office of Inspector General that Awan made “unauthorized access” to House servers.

  • ZTE reportedly signed a deal with the Commerce Department that allows the company to resume buying parts from U.S. suppliers. ZTE has been shut down since the U.S. imposed sanctions on the company in April. As part of the deal ZTE will pay a $1 billion fine and put $400 million in escrow.

  • The Kurdish YPG are withdrawing from Manbij, Syria to placate Turkey. Turkey claims the YPG will give up their weapons as they leave the city, which seems unlikely.

  • The Trump administration is intent on selling F-35s to Turkey, which makes little sense to many people outside the Trump administration.

  • An undergrad student at Columbia wrote an extraordinarily brave essay about racial double standards:

    An even cleverer study asked participants whether they would sacrifice an innocent person’s life to save the lives of one hundred. The innocent victim was either named “Tyrone Payton” (a stereotypically black name) or “Chip Ellsworth III” (a stereotypically white name.) Right-wing participants were equally likely to kill the innocent victim regardless of their perceived race. Left-wing participants, however, preferred sacrificing Chip over Tyrone. What’s more, left-wing participants were completely unaware of their pro-black bias.

    But to call it a ‘pro-black bias’ slightly misses the mark. It is better described as a tacit acknowledgement that modern-day blacks must be seen through the filter of history—not as autonomous individuals living in the present, but as dominoes in a chain of causation that stretches back to the middle passage. Viewed through this historical filter, blacks cease to be agents, instead becoming “puppets at the end of a string…dangling there…waiting to be made whole,” as Brown University economist Glenn Loury has put it. Once one adopts this stance of patronage towards blacks, it makes perfect sense to admit the black applicant over the white one, and to think extra hard before sacrificing Tyrone.

    The site that published this essay, Quillette, has a Patreon account that you should consider supporting.

  • A rare virus called Nipah that normally lives in fruit bats has spread to humans in Kerala, India, and has killed 17 out of 18 people who have contracted it.

Links for 4-3-2018

Links for 12-31-2017

Links for 12-26-2017

Links for 9-22-2017

Links for 7-16-2017

  • Tim Arango writes for The New York Times that Iran stepped into the void the U.S. created in Iraq:

    When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.

    From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region.

    In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.

    Later:

    Perhaps most crucial, Parliament passed a law last year that effectively made the constellation of Shiite militias a permanent fixture of Iraq’s security forces. This ensures Iraqi funding for the groups while effectively maintaining Iran’s control over some of the most powerful units.

    Now, with new parliamentary elections on the horizon, Shiite militias have begun organizing themselves politically for a contest that could secure even more dominance for Iran over Iraq’s political system.

  • Israel’s government opposes the ceasefire the U.S. and Russia implemented in southern Syria because it empowers Iran.

  • Among this weekend’s shooting victims in Chicago: an anti-violence activist named William Cooper. A nine year old boy died in a shooting this weekend, too.

  • Four Pakistani soldiers died when Indian forces shelled their vehicle in Kashmir.

  • Two Chinese coast guard ships entered Japanese waters near two islands off Kyushu.

  • Students in Washington, D.C. support socialism but can’t define it:

Links for 7-14-2017

  • The latest version of the Senate’s health insurance bill contains hand-outs for states intended to persuade the senators from those states to vote for the bill. Here’s an example intended to buy off Lisa Murkowski:

    Section 106 of the bill includes new language—page 13, lines 4 through 13, and page 18, line 12 through page 19, line 4—dedicating one percent of the new Stability Fund dollars to “each state where the cost of insurance premiums are at least 75 percent higher than the national average.” As a Bloomberg story noted, this provision currently applies only to Alaska, and could result in $1.32 billion in Stability Fund dollars automatically being directed to Alaska.

  • A federal district court judge in Hawaii again took it upon himself (again) to re-write parts of Donald Trump’s “travel ban” executive order.

  • American and Somali special forces troops killed several al Shabaab fighters during a raid in southern Somalia.

  • Three gunmen killed two Israeli police officers on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The gunmen, who were Arab citizens of Israel, were killed by other police officers.

  • An Egyptian man stabbed two German tourists to death and wounded four others at Red Sea resorts. Three gunmen on a motorcycle killed five Egyptian policemen at a security checkpoint south of Cairo.

  • A high ranking member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Seyed Mohsen Dehnavi, was caught trying to enter the U.S. while posing as a cancer researcher. Dehnavi was deported back to Iran.

    “Here are the facts: Mr. Dehnavi is a high-ranking member of IRGC’s Basij, has been involved in the IRGC’s military research programs, has played a key role in oppressing dissidents, and Iran’s Supreme Leader has given him his own keffiyeh as a gift,” Saeed Ghasseminejad, a prominent Iranian dissident and regional expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told the Free Beacon.

    Other media outlets have independently identified Dehnavi as a top Basij member who was involved in efforts to suppress dissident and reformist voices in Iran.

  • New reporting from Raqqa indicates the Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliate in Tunisia actively recruited young men to fight for ISIS in Syria.

  • Young male Afghan refugees in Europe are in the habit of sexually assaulting women:

    But there was one development that had not been expected, and was not tolerable: the large and growing incidence of sexual assaults committed by refugees against local women. These were not of the cultural-misunderstanding-date-rape sort, but were vicious, no-preamble attacks on random girls and women, often committed by gangs or packs of young men. At first, the incidents were downplayed or hushed up—no one wanted to provide the right wing with fodder for nationalist agitation, and the hope was that these were isolated instances caused by a small problem group of outliers. As the incidents increased, and because many of them took place in public or because the public became involved either in stopping the attack or in aiding the victim afterwards, and because the courts began issuing sentences as the cases came to trial, the matter could no longer be swept under the carpet of political correctness. And with the official acknowledgment and public reporting, a weird and puzzling footnote emerged. Most of the assaults were being committed by refugees of one particular nationality: by Afghans.

  • 38 North, a think tank that monitors North Korea, believes that thermal images of North Korea’s main nuclear site suggest the country has reprocessed more plutonium than previously thought.

  • Hong Kong’s High Court stripped four opposition lawmakers of their seats in the legislature because they refused to (correctly) take an oath when they were sworn in.

  • Jeff M. Smith wrote a good summary of the border dispute between China and India at the point where China, India, and Bhutan meet:

    First, the de-facto border, the Line of Actual Control (LAC), is a magnet for standoffs between Chinese and Indian border patrols. Unlike the turbulent Line of Control with Pakistan in Kashmir, however, an elaborate series of bilateral mechanisms has kept the LAC free of any fatal exchanges for decades. Only once since 1962 has a standoff turned bloody. That’s the good news. But there is also bad news: That fatal exchange, the Nathu La incident of 1967, unfolded near the site of the current crisis.

    Second, the peace that has prevailed at the border masks a disconcertingly ambiguous tactical situation along select portions of the LAC. Not only is the roughly 3,500-kilometer border unsettled and un-demarcated, there are roughly a dozen stretches along the frontier where the two countries cannot even agree on the location of the LAC. These are the source of hundreds of relatively innocent “transgressions” by Chinese border patrols annually. (China doesn’t publicly track Indian transgressions). On occasion, these devolve into more serious “intrusions,” as witnessed in 2013 and 2014 when the People’s Liberation Army spent several weeks camped across the LAC in the Western Sector.