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 3-8-2018

  • Donald Trump will meet Kim Jong Un by May. Michael Rubin warns that talks may signal war, not peace:

    Make no mistake: North Korea’s offer warrants not hope but caution. Dictator Kim Jong Un’s move comes straight out of the rogue-regime playbook: Offer peace to distract from preparations for war. That it repeatedly works reflects the naiveté of Western officials, for whom history begins anew with every administration.

    The simple fact is this: While Americans (and South Koreans) often view engagement as a tool of conflict resolution, North Korea’s regime and its Chinese sponsors see diplomacy as an asymmetric warfare strategy with which to tie opponents’ hands while they seize strategic advantage.

    Later:

    Pyongyang couples provocation with outreach. In 1969, just a day after offering talks, North Korea shot down an unarmed US plane over the Sea of Japan, killing 31. Talks resumed. Four days later, North Korean forces shot down an American helicopter.

    More:

    During the Reagan era, Chinese diplomats told their US counterparts North Korea wanted talks. The very next day, North Korean agents set off a bomb in Burma designed to murder much of South Korea’s visiting leadership.

  • Donald Trump signed off on his steel and aluminum tariffs, and offered Canada and Mexico a carve-out while they renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

  • John Daniel Davidson toured the Rio Grande sector of the U.S./Mexico border and has stories to tell:

    Four years ago, at the height of the crisis, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, the charitable arm of the Diocese of Brownsville, established a respite center in downtown McAllen. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was overwhelmed with thousands of children and teenagers turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents at ports of entry and elsewhere along the border, so the diocese began providing food and shelter for the minors and families. Catholic Charities initially set up its respite center in auxiliary church buildings at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in downtown McAllen.

    But it soon became clear that large numbers of families and minors were going to keep coming, and the diocese decided it needed a permanent location for the center. Today, it occupies one half of a modest commercial building about a mile from the church, and consists of a large multipurpose room, bathroom and shower facilities, a small kitchen and dining area, and a play area for young children. A half-dozen full-time staff and about 50 volunteers run the place seven days a week, 365 days a year. Since its founding four years ago, more than 100,000 migrants, most of them from Central America, have passed through there. Because the flow of migrants over the border never stops, ICE and CBP never stop, and the respite center never stops.

    Later:

    Technically, all these families are seeking asylum, and because they’re family units travelling with minors, ICE releases them after a day or two with orders to appear at an asylum hearing in whatever part of the country they’re trying to get to. (That’s not the case in some sectors, where parents are reportedly separated from their children on purpose.) The adults are fitted with electronic ankle monitors, which will confine them to a 75-mile radius of wherever they tell ICE is their final destination. But once they get where they’re going, most of them cut the thing off and throw it away. Many do not even bother showing up at their asylum hearings for the simple reason that they have no legitimate claims to asylum. Yes, they come from impoverished countries with a decaying social order. And yes, these places are violent. But most of these people simply come to the United States to work, and you don’t get asylum for that.

  • A Turkish court sentenced 25 journalists to prison terms because they worked for publications the government claims are tied to Fethullah Gulen.

  • Japan wants to build a new fighter jet based on an existing Western design. Japan’s last domestically produced fighter, the F–2, was based on the F–16.

  • A Chinese Communist Party boss from Qinghai claims people in his province view President Xi Jingping as a Bodhisattva, a living deity.

  • Remy’s “I Like It, I Love It”:

Links for 2-2-2018

Links for 12-11-2017

  • Andrew McCarthy asks whether Robert Mueller can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Russia conducted a cyber espionage operation intended to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. If he can’t, Mueller can’t prove the Trump campaign colluded in that operation.

    The government, the media, and most of the public accept the premise that Russia interfered in the election. But not because this assertion has been proved in court. Instead, it is based on an intelligence judgment by three agencies, the FBI, CIA and NSA, announced under the auspices of a fourth, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

    All four agencies were run by Obama appointees. The Obama administration had a history of politicizing intelligence to serve administration narratives, and the intelligence judgment in question cannot be divorced from politics because it was announced just as Obama’s party was fashioning a narrative that Russian espionage had stolen the election from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, it is not my purpose here to make a partisan argument. The point is to consider the nature of intelligence judgments — to contrast them with courtroom findings. This dichotomy does depend on which party is running the executive branch.

    The objective of a criminal investigation is a prosecution, not a national-security judgment. In a prosecution, each essential element of the offense charged must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It is virtually certain that Mueller could never establish, to this exacting standard of proof, that Russia is guilty of cyberespionage — at least in the absence of an accomplice witness involved in the hacking, which he apparently does not have despite the government’s 18 months of investigative effort.

  • A Department of Justice official who was demoted for concealing his meetings with Fusion GPS — the opposition research company behind the Trump dossier — had even closer ties to the company than previously known. It turns out Bruce Ohr’s wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS during the 2016 presidential campaign, although we don’t know exactly what her responsibilities were.

    Until Dec. 6, when Fox News began making inquiries about him, Bruce Ohr held two titles at DOJ. He was, and remains, director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force; but his other job was far more senior. Mr. Ohr held the rank of associate deputy attorney general, a post that gave him an office four doors down from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The day before Fox News reported that Mr. Ohr held his secret meetings last year with the founder of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, and with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the dossier, the Justice Department stripped Ohr of his deputy title and ousted him from his fourth floor office at the building that DOJ insiders call “Main Justice.”

    Initially, DOJ officials provided no explanation for Ohr’s demotion. Later, they said his wearing of two hats was “unusual”; still later, they confirmed Ohr had withheld his contacts with the Fusion GPS men from superiors.

  • In the past week, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, ABC, The New York Times, and CNN all published false anti-Trump stories:

    Forget your routine bias, these were four bombshells disseminated to millions of Americans by breathless anchors, pundits and analysts, feeding frenzied expectations that have now been internalized as indisputable truths by many. All four pieces, incidentally, are useless without the central faulty claim. Yet, there they sit. And these are only four of dozens of other stories that have fizzled over the year.

    Later:

    The fact that many political journalists (not all) are hopelessly biased is one thing (social media has made this fact inarguable), but if they become a proxy of operatives who peddle falsehoods, they will soon lose all credibility with a big swath of the country. They will only have themselves to blame.

  • John Daniel Davidson visited Alabama and interviewed people to learn why they (still) support Roy Moore for U.S. Senate. If the Democrats had nominated a pro-life candidate (are there any pro-life Democrats left?), they would have had a much better chance of winning this election.

  • An immigrant from Bangladesh who was inspired by ISIS attempted a suicide bombing in New York City. He injured himself and three other people. He entered the U.S. on a chain migration visa.

  • The Secret Service settled a five year old lawsuit with a whistleblower after the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General determined that the Secret Service retaliated against him for complaining about a superior’s alleged misconduct.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to convince EU foreign ministers to follow Donald Trump’s lead and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but didn’t get anywhere. Meanwhile Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan keeps digging deeper holes, saying, “ The ones who made Jerusalem a dungeon for Muslims and members of other religions will never be able to clean the blood from their hands… With their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has become a partner in this bloodshed.”

  • I haven’t linked to a story like this recently, but Turkey continues to bomb northern Iraq on a near-weekly basis. The Turks claim the latest strike killed 29 PKK members.

  • Vladimir Putin visited Syria and said an unspecified number of Russian troops are withdrawing from Syria now that ISIS has been defeated.

  • The Associated Press published the backstory of “Mosul Eye,” a blogger/historian who anonymously documented life under ISIS in Mosul.

  • A Chinese diplomat threatened to invade Taiwan if a U.S. Navy ship ever visits the island.

  • Josh Robin writes for The Washington Post that Washington, D.C. is waking up to “the huge scope and scale of Chinese Communist Party influence operations inside the United States, which permeate American institutions of all kinds.”

  • The Department of Justice says it has no plans to deport Guo Wengui, who is wanted by the Chinese government:

    Since earlier this year, China's government has engaged in a wide-ranging influence operation, including the use of cyber attacks on American institutions, in a bid to force the United States to repatriate Guo to China.

    The effort has included the use of American business leaders with interests in China to lobby President Trump to return the dissident.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reviewed the case and determined Guo will not be forcibly returned, the senior official told reporters during a briefing at the White House.

    Later:

    Guo, who now lives in New York City, has become an outspoken critic of China's government and a pro-democracy advocate who has charged that senior leaders are engaged in corrupt financial and other activities. He has labeled the ruling Communist Party of China a "kleptocracy" and warned that China's government is working to subvert the United States.

Links for 12-1-2017

Links for 10-10-2017

Links for 8-14-2017