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CNN legal analyst: ‘Strong probability’ Russia handed Trump the presidency

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 00:01

CNN currently has this opinion piece near the top of its homepage. The headline, “Mueller tells a compelling story of Russian intrigue that was designed to elect Trump,” is a bit toned down but the actual piece argues that Mueller’s indictment proves Russia probably handed the election to Hillary.

If the allegations of the indictment prove true, it seems probable that the Russians were successful in their multimillion-dollar effort to influence the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Of course the answer to this complex question will never be definitively known. Polling cannot tell us whether voters might have chosen differently if the Russian influence operation hadn’t happened.

What is known, however, is that the election was close and voter shifts in just a few significant states could have changed the Electoral College vote count in a presidential election in which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote…

Friday’s indictments strongly suggest that the millions of Russian rubles spent to support and give credibility to Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-black activist themes had to have had an impact in such an extremely close presidential election…

The indictment suggests the Russians had their eye on “purple” states including Florida, which went for Trump, giving him 29 electoral votes. Trump won by razor-thin margins in Pennsylvania with 20 electoral votes, Michigan with 16 and Wisconsin with 10. A shift of a mere 38 electoral votes from some combination of states and Hillary is president.

Given what the indictments reveal, there is a strong probability that Russia’s surreptitious and illegal support handed Trump the presidency.

Breaking now at CNN: It was a close election! Yes, we know that. And the nature of a close election is that you can point to almost anything and claim that’s the reason the loser lost. In fact, Hillary has pointed to at least a dozen different reasons, any one of which might have made the difference. Hillary has done this so conspicuously that even CNN made a video titled “People and things Clinton blames for her loss”

Here’s the thing about the Russian influence campaign on social media. They spent maybe a million dollars a month, maybe a little more. A lot of that money was spent trying to create generalized chaos in our system. Toward the end of the campaign, they did try to boost Trump, but the total devoted to that was a fraction of the overall money spent. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign and associated joint fundraising committees and SuperPACs raised and spent something like $1.4 billion dollars trying to shape the electoral landscape. The Trump campaign and it’s affiliated groups raised and spent another $950 million. That’s a really huge amount of money, a lot of it spent on advertising and outreach, compared to the relatively paltry Russian effort.

I’m certainly not saying the Russians should get a pass for meddling in our election. I’m not saying their effort had no impact. I’m not even saying it’s impossible that it impacted the outcome to some measurable (in a theoretical sense) degree. But I do think the idea that anyone can pinpoint this one thing out of all the factors that were involved and the billions of dollars and the endless hours of media coverage and say definitively, ‘These Facebook ads swung the election!” is pretty silly. There are simply too many other variables involved, including all the other ones Hillary has been pointing out all year.

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As expected, Trump’s visit to a Florida hospital was criticized by the media

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 22:31

Last night I wrote a brief post about President Trump’s visit to a Florida hospital which treated some of the students injured in the Parkland shooting. I said that Trump’s effort wouldn’t satisfy progressives and sure enough the Washington Post published a story last night which reads less like straight news and more like an opinion piece comparing Trump unfavorably to former President Obama:

President Trump, as he often does while responding to natural disasters, mass shootings or unfolding crises, spent much of his time congratulating the responders instead of memorializing the victims of Wednesday’s school shooting during a visit here Friday…

Trump said he saw victims at the hospital — he was not seen doing so — and even described one woman who suffered bullets to her lungs. That anecdote, though, quickly became about the officers, who responded within 20 minutes and saved her life…

He did not give an emotional or rousing commemoration to the victims — like President Barack Obama’s after a mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church — nor did he publicly greet any families whose children were killed in the attack. Speaking at a funeral or a large vigil was not on the agenda. There were no calls for American resolve. There were no tears…

His critics and even some allies say he should look at changing laws after this latest mass shooting, and he probably would have been greeted by protesters had he visited a larger and less controlled setting, aides conceded…

The victims and those present at a vigil who called for tougher gun-control laws did not see the president.

All of this was in reaction to Trump’s one-minute long press availability at the end of his 35-minute visit to the hospital. A big focus here is what Trump didn’t do and didn’t say and even the protesters who didn’t show up but might have wanted to. The writer also uses the classic ‘some say…’ formulation to make the pitch for gun control Trump hasn’t promised. The author even makes a point of saying that no one saw Trump meet with the victims as if that might be in doubt. But Trump posted photos on Twitter after the visit, two of which showed him in the room with one of the victims.

Our entire Nation, w/one heavy heart, continues to pray for the victims & their families in Parkland, FL. To teachers, law enforcement, first responders & medical professionals who responded so bravely in the face of danger: We THANK YOU for your courage! https://t.co/3yJsrebZMG pic.twitter.com/ti791dENTy

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2018

Today, a Washington Post editor praised the paper’s “dispatch” on Twitter (h/t the Hill):

Very nice @jdawsey1 dispatch on Trump at Florida hospital — not as comforter in chief, but as congratulator in chief. Keep reading to the end. https://t.co/ZVW93zIjH1

— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) February 17, 2018

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders took issue with that.

Actually @PhilipRucker it’s not very nice, but it is very misleading. @POTUS spent private time w/ victims of the shooting & their families. Out of respect for them he didn’t bring media into their hospital rooms but don’t let the truth get in the way of your anti-Trump narrative https://t.co/APx9ZSbpEh

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) February 17, 2018

Here’s the bottom line. Donald Trump is not Barack Obama. Clearly many people, including some journalists and editors at the Washington Post, are disappointed by that. What they want is a grand, Obama-esque show of emotion, complete with tears. And, if we’re honest, they want that to be followed by a commitment to more gun control. They aren’t getting what they want from Trump because it turns out, he’s not Barack Obama.

There’s no doubt Obama was exceedingly good at capitalizing on tragedy. People naturally tend to rally around the leader when something awful happens and Obama was good at quietly making himself the focus of that attention, not just after shootings but after natural disasters of all kinds. I personally found that a little creepy and emotionally manipulative. I don’t really like the idea of a president who helps collate our emotions except maybe when the nation is at war. Other people feel differently and it’s perfectly fine to complain that Trump’s response is not as emotionally satisfying as Obama’s response to similar events. Even the Post’s journalists are free to feel disappointed about all of this, but they should either save it for the opinion pages or just stop pretending they’re offering straight news stories.

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Liberals try to claim Florida shooter was “trained by the NRA”

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 21:01

Since the Florida school shooting happened in an election year, liberals have been working valiantly to somehow tie the National Rifle Association to the tragedy. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but some of them seemed to think they’d struck gold when they found out about a marksmanship program operated at the school which the shooter previously belonged to. It turns out that the program received a grant to partially fund it from the NRA, leading to some hot take headlines which are melting down laptop and phone screens today. These include, “Nikolas Cruz was reportedly on an NRA-funded rifle team in high school” along with “The Florida gunman’s classmates just revealed the NRA paid for his marksmanship training.” Perhaps my favorite was, “Florida Shooter Competed On NRA Marksmanship Team.”

And the tweets… oh, boy, were there tweets.

The NRA donated $10,000 to help train the Parkland shooting suspect to use a rifle https://t.co/pilyHhWS0q pic.twitter.com/tk0ZLwsCnh

— ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress) February 17, 2018

That’s really amazing. What was the NRA doing hanging around at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? Well… it turns out they weren’t. Those headlines are a bit more overblown than the way the Associated Press describes the situation, which is at least a bit more honest. The “rifle team” in question was actually a marksmanship program. And it wasn’t run by the NRA, but by the Army Junior ROTC. And the “rifles” were air-powered pellet guns. They did, however, receive a grant to operate the program and purchase equipment.

The troubled teen authorities say killed 17 people at a Florida high school excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship program supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation, part of a multimillion-dollar effort by the gun group to support youth shooting clubs and other programs.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was wearing a maroon shirt with the logo from the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he was arrested Wednesday shortly after the shooting. Former JROTC cadets told The Associated Press that Cruz was a member of the small varsity marksmanship team that trained together after class and traveled to other area schools to compete.

The honest description would have been to say that the Army was running a training program, but I suppose that doesn’t make for as good of a fundraising letter. Getting these programs off the ground isn’t cheap, however, so they accepted a grant from the NRA, just as hundreds of schools across thirty states do every year. The NRA also offers grants to local gun clubs, Boy Scout troops and churches. One of their educational outreach programs where they actually do go to schools is for safety training, where Eddie Eagle helps teach younger children to never touch guns without parental supervision and to “run away” from them to avoid danger.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas they used the NRA funds to supplement the small amount of money the JROTC gets from the U.S. Army. They used the NRA grant to purchase things such as safety glasses and Kevlar curtains. And just to stress this again, they use air rifles, similar to the ones you see the Olympic athletes firing in the biathlon.

So this isn’t “an NRA program.” And the NRA didn’t “train the shooter.” But don’t let a little thing like facts stand in your way when you’re trying to do some fundraising.

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McMaster on yesterday’s indictments: It’s now “incontrovertible” that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 19:31

Trump was reportedly ecstatic that the indictments noted that his associates were “unwitting” in their contacts with Russians. I understand that reaction, but he’s being outmaneuvered here and I’m not sure he realizes it yet.

By laying out a meticulous case for how Russia tried to tip the electoral scales toward Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Mueller has made it much harder for the president to dismiss the investigation as mere politics. He may also have made it harder for Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Mueller himself, since, as some Democratic lawmakers argued, that would look like an attempt to help Russia further undermine American democracy…

Far from being rattled, Mr. Trump was elated, according to his advisers, because he viewed it as evidence that Mr. Mueller now knows who the malefactors are — and they do not include him or members of his team. (The indictment refers to campaign officials who met or communicated with Russians, but says they were “unwitting.”)

POTUS has spent the last 16 months questioning Russia’s involvement in the campaign despite the fact that ev-uh-ree-one in his intel bureaucracy insists they’re guilty. It was only a few days ago that CNN reported that he still doubts Russian interference even now. The theory for his skepticism is that he’s succumbed to motivated reasoning: If Russia meddled, he may be thinking, then my great victory wasn’t truly earned. That’s not necessarily true — Russia’s impact on influencing how Americans voted was probably marginal, almost certainly less significant than the eleventh-hour Comey letter about reopening Emailgate. (Russian propaganda on Trump’s behalf also surely mattered much less than the endless tons of free media his campaign received during the primaries from cable news.) But you can understand his sensitivity about the subject. Plenty of Democrats have convinced themselves, however foolishly, that Hillary would have won if not for the sinister schemes of Vladimir Putin.

So here we are, a day after indictments were published alleging with specificity that Russia meddled in 2016 and spent millions of dollars to do so, and Trump is … elated. Mueller just blew a hole through any remaining doubts about Russian interference, validating his appointment as special counsel, to the point where Trump’s own National Security Advisor is crowing about his findings on Russia onstage at an event today. Trump’s skepticism about Russia looks even more feeble now than it did before. You could understand him popping the champagne anyway if Mueller had paired the indictments with an announcement that his investigation into Trump’s campaign was finished and no indictments would issue against the president or his deputies. In that case, having been vindicated personally, Trump might decide that it’s okay to finally acknowledge Russian interference. (Even though that would still leave Democrats free to believe that Putin, not Trump, was the prime mover in the GOP victory.) But all Mueller said was that there was no knowing coordination by Trump associates with Russia in *this prong* of the probe.

That is to say, I think we have an answer as to why Mueller indicted a bunch of Russians who’ll never be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial. To some extent, it was PR: He wanted to prove that the Russiagate investigation was paying dividends and to shore up public support for it before Trump finally tries to pull the plug. Now he has a big vote of confidence in his findings from the president’s own top intelligence advisor, and if Trump tries to fire him later it’ll look like he’s protecting Russia by doing so as much as he’s protecting his own team. That was well played by the special counsel. And well played by Rod Rosenstein too. If I recall correctly, Rosenstein didn’t appear before any cameras when Paul Manafort was indicted or Mike Flynn copped a plea. Manafort and Flynn were top Trump campaign aides and Rosenstein wouldn’t want to be on camera crowing about his boss’s associates getting pinched by Mueller. Yesterday, though, gave him an opportunity to tout Mueller’s work in a matter where the defendants weren’t Trump cronies. And more importantly, it tied Rosenstein in the public mind to Mueller’s fruitful efforts to root out Russian influence. Rosenstein is on even thinner ice with the White House than Mueller is for enabling the Russiagate “witch hunt.” How does Trump fire him now that Mueller has found some witches and Rosenstein himself did the honors in announcing it?

One more thing. Is POTUS still intent on a diplomatic reset with Russia or has that fallen by the wayside? No one would blame him if it has. Just this week alone, news is swirling that Russian mercenaries attacked a U.S. base in Syria (at great cost to themselves) and Trump’s administration announced that it was Russia that was behind a major cyberattack across the globe last year. Trump himself has grumbled lately about Russia evading sanctions on North Korea. Maybe he’s given up on the idea of a fresh start with Putin, as the two men who preceded him in office did after beginning their own administrations with hopes for rapprochement. If he *hasn’t* given up, though — and maybe he hasn’t — then I don’t know why he’d be “elated” by yesterday’s indictments. Sure, they pointed away from collusion, but they also pointed squarely at Russia. Making nice with Putin will be even harder politically now.

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Romney: Congress has to take action on mass shootings

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 18:01

Perhaps, but what kind of action? Mitt Romney’s comments to the Salt Lake Tribune got picked up by The Hill and others in a generic manner, making it sound as though Romney might have made a major break with the Republican Party on gun control. Instead, Romney offered the same kinds of solutions that the GOP has tried to push through Congress after other mass-shooting incidents, including expanded federal background checks:

Romney lingered longer on one issue: school shootings. He was originally scheduled to announce his bid Thursday but pushed it back “out of respect for the victims and their families” after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school.

He encouraged states to consider solutions like building security, police patrols and intervention teams. He also said he would back a measure to bolster the federal database for firearms background checks.

“I think we can’t just sit and wait and hope for things to get better,” he said. “It is wrong and unacceptable for children in our schools to fear for their lives.”

None of these are new ideas, but most of them got scuttled by Democrats after earlier tragedies led them to push for outright gun control. Marco Rubio took to Twitter this morning to remind the media that the GOP has tried to address some of the issues that routinely arise after mass shootings, especially on mental health:

Many in media love to use “fact-checkers” in articles.Unless of course the result contradicts their narrative. https://t.co/0KVoImAg3B 1/6

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 17, 2018

Republicans killed the background check push the last time it came up, but that was in part because Democratic leadership made it clear that they would use it as a platform for broader gun-control legislation. This is a continuing problem when it comes to working on the relevant issues in these mass shootings. Even on a common-sense compromise like a ban on bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre, correcting an ATF decision that should never have been made in the first place, Nancy Pelosi bragged that she would use it as leverage to institute bans on entire classes of legal firearms. It killed the momentum for the bill, even though the NRA endorsed it. Congress ended up referring it back to the ATF.

The NRA has advanced cautious encouragement on improving background checks when the issue doesn’t get used to push broader gun control. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey tried taking it up in 2015, but distrust of the Obama administration ran too high at the time.  With an NRA-endorsed president in the White House, there may be more room to negotiate what Romney suggests here — a “bolstering” of the federal background check system, likely to capture more mental-health issues or previous law-enforcement contacts. Donald Trump himself suggested that he would be open to that conversation, a suggestion which may have gone farther than Romney went here.

If Republicans do manage to pass a bill with some common-sense answers to mass shootings, they will at least have done better than Democrats in doing something. And if Democrats obstruct such a bill, the media will have no excuse in passing it off as a Republican issue.

Meanwhile, we should wait to craft such bills to find out whether we’re addressing the real problems. For instance, we’re still discovering the issues surrounding the November mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a failure to follow up on a sexual assault case left the shooter free to conduct his murderous rampage:

Sheriff’s deputies didn’t pursue a sexual assault investigation against the gunman in a mass shooting at a Texas church, even though the woman reporting it signed a complaint detailing the alleged attack, according to records released Friday.

The records also contradict the reason previously given for why the case stalled against Devin Patrick Kelley, four years before the November 2017 massacre at a tiny church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Had Kelley been prosecuted for sexual assault, a conviction could have stopped a trail of violent allegations that culminated in the shooting.

The Pentagon has gotten a lot of criticism, justifiably so, for not transmitting Kelley’s record of crime to the federal background check database. But as it turns out, the sheriff’s department didn’t have a database tracking suspects in sexual assault cases, so when Kelley later got busted for domestic violence, they never found out that he was wanted for questioning in the earlier case. Just as it appears in the Parkland shooting, law enforcement had plenty of opportunities to stop the perp before he began his massacre. We should start our efforts by plugging those holes rather than broadly infringing on the rights of millions of law-abiding, responsible firearms owners.

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Empowerment or exploitation: Olympian Aly Raisman poses nude for SI swimsuit edition

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 16:31

This month’s highly anticipated annual swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated features Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman posing nude. The word “Fierce” and a sentence “Women Do Not Have To Be Modest To Be Respected” cover her side facing the camera. It’s all about empowerment. Or something.  The 23-year-old athlete participated in the “In Her Words” feature of this year’s edition – a response to the #MeToo movement. Women were encouraged to write their own messages on their bodies.

She previewed her photograph on Instagram.

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfJR1JsFR8b/?taken-by=alyraisman

 

Maybe it’s the mom in me that brought about my initial response to her photo. I have a son not much older than her and I admit my reaction is through a mom’s lens but to me, Aly showed such courage and strength with her testimony during Nassar’s trial that she already proved she is an empowered young woman. The nude statement seems to be too much. I can understand that she wants to send a strong message that a woman’s clothes, or lack thereof, do not make it ok for her to be abused. She’s right. A victim of sexual abuse or rape must never be victimized. All women have the right to live abuse-free.

For some background, last November a bit of a tiff erupted on Twitter between 2017 Summer Olympic gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman involving clothes and sexual attacks. After Raisman went public with her story about abuse at the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar, she asked for help in the fight to support victims. Raisman’s point was that no matter how a woman is dressed, sexual assault is never ok. Douglas tweeted about dressing modestly so as not to “entice the wrong crowd.” She said women should be classy, with the implication that a woman may bring the abuse on herself. It was an odd criticism made about a sister gold medalist so another member of the team jumped in to offer her support to Aly. Simone Biles tweeted about her shock and disappointment of Douglas and took a screenshot to capture the moment. Douglas deleted the tweet and apologized after getting blowback for it and went on to say she, too, was a victim.

Raisman is a beautiful young woman and the photo is not porn-like, it just strikes me as exploiting the situation. Was the “In Her Words” feature the best compromise from Sports Illustrated in an issue touted for provocative photos of scantily clad women? It’s a sports magazine, after all.

Aly’s Twitter account shows a more traditional pose.

 

https://twitter.com/Aly_Raisman/status/963887663651741696

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Idaho defies Obamacare — but will feds intervene?

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 15:01

Republicans didn’t get a chance to repeal ObamaCare in 2017, but at least one state has decided to test how far the Trump administration will go in enforcing it. After HHS signaled that states might be able to allow the sale of non-ACA-compliant plans, Idaho decided to take the leap. Now, NPR reports, Blue Cross has launched several new plans tailored to the needs of those who have balked at buying health insurance in the past.

That’s the kind of innovation that ObamaCare punished. Will it do so again?

It’s barely been two weeks since Idaho regulators said they would allow the sale of health insurance that doesn’t meet all of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements — a controversial step some experts said would likely draw legal scrutiny and, potentially, federal fines for any insurer that jumped in.

And on Wednesday, Blue Cross of Idaho unveiled a menu of new health plans that break with federal health law rules in several ways, including setting premiums based on applicants’ health.

In its announcement, Blue Cross emphasized their commitment to consumer choice:

Blue Cross of Idaho designed each new state-based plan to provide access to high-quality healthcare, with the right level of benefits for each member. If approved by the Idaho Department of Insurance, consumers can purchase Freedom Blue plans through Blue Cross of Idaho. Following the DOI’s guidelines, Blue Cross of Idaho will continue to offer ACA plans through Your Health Idaho.

“This is about affordability and choice,” said Maher.

Freedom Blue plans allow Idaho residents to choose the benefits they want at premiums that cost up to 50-percent less than similar ACA-qualified health plans. (Please see the attached summary of Freedom Blue plans.)

Each Freedom Blue plan provides access to prescription drug coverage, doctors, specialists, emergency services, urgent care, hospitals, physical therapists and much more. Freedom Blue plans use the same Blue Cross of Idaho’s guided health networks as its ACA qualified health plans.

That sounds like a healthy market, with new products shaped by consumer demand and pricing pressures. Ten years ago, health insurers created and maintained a wide variety of plans that allowed consumers to get maximum value for their premiums, calculating the necessity of coverages against their individual needs and economic situations. ObamaCare, with its one-size-fits-all coverage mandates and misguided community ratings, demolished that flexibility and made it impossible for healthier Americans to get much value out of their insurance.

However, NPR wonders just how long that system can last if HHS allows Idaho to shelter illegal plans in their state:

The Blue Cross decision ups the ante for Alex Azar, the Trump administration’s new Health and Human Services secretary. Will he use his authority under federal law to compel Idaho to follow the ACA and reject the Blues plans? Or will he allow state regulators to move forward, perhaps prompting other states to take more sweeping actions?

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, even as Blue Cross rolled out its plans, Azar faced such questions. “There are rules,” Azar said. “There is a rule of law that we need to enforce.” …

“Crazypants illegal,” tweeted Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former attorney with the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice, who said that states can’t pick and choose which parts of federal law to follow. Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, pointed out that health insurers could be liable for sharp fines if they are found to be in violation of the ACA.

Oh, we’re suddenly concerned about the enforcement of every federal law and regulation, are we? Here’s a proposal that I think would suit everyone. Donald Trump could issue an executive order relying on the administration’s prosecutorial discretion that directs HHS and other agencies to postpone any action on enforcing these regulations. The administration could argue that while these plans may well be technically illegal, they also appear to be working well in these communities. They serve usefully to assist taxpayers in improving their lives despite their lack of proper provenance. The plans aren’t causing trouble, at least not any more than any other plans in Idaho.

But what shall we call this program? Perhaps we can call it Deferred Action on the Affordable Care Act, or DAACA for short. Who’s with me?

Bagley’s correct, of course, and Azar is supposed to enforce the laws and regulations of ObamaCare. But it’s a hoot to hear that states and cities have to abide by every jot and tittle of the ACA and its regulations while others celebrate sanctuary cities, and insist on calling illegal immigrants “dreamers” while devising new ways to undermine actual and specific federal immigration laws. For that matter, how about those who insist that states should be the “laboratories of democracy” when it comes to marijuana but not health insurance? Prosecutorial discretion for we and not for thee, apparently.

In regard to Idaho and Blue Cross, HHS will likely get sued into enforcement at some point. It’s still a great example of what our health insurance market could look like if Congress had done what it promised to do and repeal ObamaCare.

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Chicago inmates cheer accused cop killer, face reprisals

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 13:31

How bad have things gotten in Chicago? This bad.

As you may have already heard, Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer was murdered in the line of duty by a felon who he was pursuing. Shomari Legghette shot Bauer six times with a handgun, killing him. After being arrested and taken to jail, Legghette was escorted past a holding pen where a number of inmates began cheering for him like he was some sort of conquering hero. (CBS Chicago)

A handful of inmates at Cook County Jail applauded when the man charged with killing Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer walked past their holding cell on Thursday.

The Cook County Sheriff’s office said surveillance video shows 27 inmates in a holding cell in an area connecting the Leighton Criminal Courthouse to the jail. As officers escorted Shomari Legghette back to jail after his bond hearing on Thursday, between 3 and 5 of the inmates can be seen clapping.

Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Sheriff Tom Dart, called the inmates’ actions “disgraceful and despicable.” She said officials were working to identify the inmates who clapped, and would ask the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to consider using the video against them in sentencing in their cases.

The inmates also are being transferred to other jails outside Cook County, according to Smith.

There’s a video at the link above, but I didn’t embed it for you here since I couldn’t locate one that wasn’t locked into autoplay mode. (How annoying is that?)

The display by the inmates was disgusting in and of itself, but the situation has become even more complicated. There are now suggestions that they will face reprisals for their actions when their individual cases are heard. This has some free speech advocates up in arms.

Cara Smith, the chief policy officer for Sheriff Tom Dart, explained what’s being done. (Associated Press)

She said the five inmates were transferred overnight from Chicago to a jail in southern Illinois, where it will be more difficult for family and friends to visit them while they are in custody.

The jail also is forwarding to prosecutors the video and reports of the incident Thursday afternoon so they can use the information if the inmates are convicted, she said.

“The conduct that those detainees engaged in was disgraceful… and speaks to their character,” Smith said. “We feel it should be considered by prosecutors in connection with their sentencing.”

The video could be a “factor of aggravation” considered by a judge in sentencing.

At least one defense attorney is already going to the mat, declaring that the inmates’ actions, while reprehensible, are “a clear exercise of their right to free speech.” As such, he concludes that their display can’t be considered as aggravation when they face sentencing.

As much as it disgusts me to say it, that’s probably the correct call. Regardless of what crimes those men in the holding cell are charged with, speech they engage in while in the cell will almost surely be found to be completely unrelated. We may all be justifiably enraged at them, but if a judge takes that information into account and hands them down additional jail time or extra charges based on the cheering, it will likely be thrown out on appeal. Even worse, the court could be setting the inmates up for some sort of lawsuit down the road which they could conceivably win.

This is one case where it’s probably better to publicize their behavior as education for the public but let that be the end of it.

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Trump visits Florida hospital, meets with school shooting victims

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 01:41

President Trump visited a Florida hospital Friday afternoon where victims of the Parkland school shooting were recovering. He announced he would be making the visit earlier today on Twitter:

I will be leaving for Florida today to meet with some of the bravest people on earth – but people whose lives have been totally shattered. Am also working with Congress on many fronts.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018

The cameras didn’t follow Trump into the hospital rooms of victims (for obvious reasons) so it’s not clear what he said to them, but afterwards he gave a brief statement to the media from inside the hospital. From CNN:

Trump told reporters at the hospital that he spoke to victims of the shooting, adding that it is “very sad something like that could happen.”

The President, during the brief exchange, also heralded the efforts of hospital staff and first responders to save lives.

“It’s an incredible thing,” he said of the speed with which people were taken for treatment at the hospital after being wounded. “I want to congratulate them.”

A White House statement said that the Trumps were visiting “to pay their respects and thank the medical professionals for their life-saving assistance” in response to shooting.

Trump shook the hand of one doctor but left after about a minute. A reporter shouted a question about the need to change gun laws as Trump headed down a corridor and out of sight. He was followed by a large contingent of Secret Service officers.

This isn’t going to matter to the progressives who want to see action on gun control rather than empathy for victims, but at least Trump seems to be making a good faith effort to show he cares.

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Kamala Harris: How can we be proud of a country where our babies are being slaughtered?

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 01:01

You make a good point, Kamala Harris. A society that doesn’t value children’s lives *is* sort of garbage, isn’t it?

I’m glad we’re all on the same page here.

Food for thought:

In today's @WSJ @Peggynoonannyc suggests a trade. Ban Assault style weapons like the AR-15 and late term abortions. Both GOP and Democrats would have to comrpmise. I like it. Great out-of-box thinking!

— Russell J. Moore (@Russmoore713) February 16, 2018

Would either side accept that trade? Republicans, I think, believe they can win on the merits over time and ban late-term abortions whether Democrats make a concession or not. The majority of the public is already on their side on the issue. Democrats, though, surely also believe they’ll have the numbers soon enough to enact a new assault-weapons ban. Americans are exasperated with massacres, many (but not all) of which involve AR-15s. Each issue is a cultural litmus test for the party defending it: The GOP won’t sacrifice Americans’ sacred right to defend themselves and Democrats won’t sacrifice women’s “sacred” right to, ahem, “reproductive choice.” So what’s left to talk about?

You would think Harris would be at least minimally self-aware enough not to refer to “babies” when describing callousness towards children dying. That’s how little regard the left has for life in the womb.

We cannot tolerate a society and live in a country with pride when our babies are being slaughtered. pic.twitter.com/06JwL4ppvS

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 16, 2018

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NLRB: Google’s firing of James Damore didn’t violate federal labor law

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 00:23

James Damore is the former Google engineer who was fired last year after a memo he wrote about hiring practices at the company went viral. Today, Bloomberg reports the National Labor Relations Board has issued a 6-page memo stating that Damore’s firing was not a violation of federal labor law:

Google’s firing of an engineer over his controversial memo criticizing its diversity policies and “politically correct monoculture” didn’t violate U.S. labor law, a federal agency lawyer concluded.

Statements in James Damore’s 3,000-word memo “regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive” that they fell outside protections for collective action in the workplace, an associate general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board wrote in a six-page memo disclosed Thursday…

“Much of” Damore’s memo was probably protected under the law, the labor board’s attorney, Jayme Sophir, said in the Jan. 16 memo. But Sophir went on to find that Google discharged Damore only for his “discriminatory statements,” which aren’t shielded by labor law.

The actual NLRB memo is here. It highlights two statements from the memo which had to do with biological differences between men and women. If you guessed Damore’s mention of “neuroticism” was one of the things the NLRB objected to, come collect your prize:

  • Women are more prone to “neuroticism,” resulting in women experiencing higher anxiety and exhibiting lower tolerance for stress, which “may contribute to . . .
    the lower number of women in high stress jobs”;
  • Men demonstrate greater variance in IQ than women, such that there are more men at both the top and bottom of the distribution. Thus, posited, the Employer’s preference to hire from the “top of the curve” may result in a candidate pool with fewer females than those of “less-selective” tech companies.

The NLRB memo then concludes these statements constitute sexual harassment:

…statements about immutable traits linked to sex—such as women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution—were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding effort to cloak comments with “scientific” references and analysis, and notwithstanding “not all women” disclaimers. Moreover, those statements were likely to cause serious dissension and disruption in the workplace…Thus, while much of the Charging Party’s memorandum was likely protected, the statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected.

What the memo doesn’t do is demonstrate that Damore’s statements are “scientific” rather than just scientific. The assumption seems to be that this was a cloak for his bad intent. Also, the cases the NLRB memo offers for comparison all seem to involve employees using derogatory language aimed at specific individuals, i.e. suggesting a co-worker is a closeted homosexual or, in another example, claiming someone is a member of the KKK:

For example, in Avondale Industries, the Board held that the employer lawfully discharged a union activist for insubordination based on her unfounded assertion that her foreman was a Klansman; the employer was justifiably concerned about the disruption her remark would cause in the workplace among her fellow African-American employees. In Advertiser Mfg. Co., the employer lawfully disciplined a shop steward who had made debasing and sexually abusive remarks to a female employee who had crossed a picket line months earlier. And, in Honda of America Mfg., the employer lawfully disciplined an employee for distributing a newsletter in which he directed one named employee to “come out of the closet” and used the phrase “bone us” to critique the employer’s bonus program.

I see a difference between calling an individual a Klansman and Damore’s memo which made generalized comments about men and women as a whole. If Damore had said ‘Engineer X is a poor worker because she’s a woman’ that would be different. But I’m not an NLRB lawyer (or a lawyer at all) so I’ll leave it to them to sort out.

Damore withdrew his complaint to the NLRB last month. He also filed a lawsuit against Google last month, alleging the company “ostracized, belittled, and punished” him (and others with differing views). Damore was joined in the lawsuit by one more former Google engineer named David Gudeman.

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Here we go: The “Karate Kid” nostalgia trip is coming

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 23:41

To cleanse the palate, I was skeptical of the concept when it was announced in August but, watching this … I’m sort of feeling it, I can’t lie. Macchio and Zabka, together again? For a schlub of a certain age like myself, you can’t experience childhood movie nostalgia more viscerally than this. “The Karate Kid” is in the pantheon of 80s-est 80s movies, alongside Ferris Bueller, Rambo, The Terminator, and a few others. And while the “spunky ethnic underdog versus ruthless Nordic killing machine” dynamic arguably achieved its most perfect expression in “Rocky IV,” it was never done with more heart than it was in “Karate Kid.”

If Hollywood can swing this, it can swing a “Just One of the Guys” reboot too. If we’re going to make America great again, let’s really do it.

One lingering question: Will Daniel be the villain this time? (The acknowledged villain, I mean.) God knows Zabka deserves some audience cheers after playing the menacing towheaded goon so memorably in various 80s classics. I smell Emmy.

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Nicolle Wallace: Let’s face it, we’re talking about this Florida shooting because 17 white kids were killed

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 23:01

Via Newsbusters, okay, but … I do remember some chatter after that degenerate in South Carolina murdered nine black congregants during a Bible study session three years ago. I suspect that if the Parkland shooter walked into a mostly black or Hispanic high school and began blowing people’s heads off willy nilly, that might draw some coverage too. What captures people’s imaginations about mass murder isn’t the race of the victims, it’s the sheer carnage and the difficulty of understanding the motive. (Major difficulty in the case of the Vegas massacre.) We recoil at murders committed for love, money, or revenge but we understand why they happen. The mind with an itch that can only be scratched by killing as many people as possible — especially kids — is a place of unfathomable darkness, be it race-hatred of the depths felt by Dylann Roof or the incoherent rage that seems to have driven Nikolas Cruz and Adam Lanza. That’s why we talk about it.

There are other types of homicide in which white victims do draw far more media interest than black victims do. The example universally cited is when little girls go missing. If a five-year-old black girl disappears, it’s tragic but life is always tragic for the “underclass,” people conclude. If a five-year-old blonde white girl disappears, now you’re cookin’. One of the panelists here wonders why a mass shooting in which 17 kids die in one afternoon should be so much more newsworthy than kids dying one day a time in Chicago. There is a racial component to why that violence is ignored — again, the wider public makes ghastly assumptions about how life must be for the underclass — but the comparison misses the special macabre allure of the mass shooting. And all of this would be obvious to Wallace, if not for the fact that she’s on MSNBC and is compelled to compete in the Woke Olympics by saying stupid things like this.

Note John Heilemann at the start of the clip kicking in some wokeness of his own about “toxic masculinity.” He’s not wrong about that in the abstract. All sorts of mass shooters have attempted to avenge their rejection by women by asserting their power over whether unsuspecting, defenseless people live or die. The most obvious example among recent spree killers was Elliot Rodger, the UC-Santa Barbara spree killer in 2014. The Parkland shooter was a twisted “fan” of Rodger’s and has been accused of stalking a girl while he attended Stoneman High School. But his behavior was so strange for so long to so many people that any magic-bullet explanation for why he went off seems pat and premature. Maybe it’s your pet issue. Probably it’s much more complicated. You’ll never earn a medal at the Woke Olympics dealing in complexity.

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Bloomberg: Source says Mueller is still investigating collusion

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 22:21

The source of this information is unnamed, but my first thought on reading it was ‘Wow, Adam Schiff works fast!’ Whoever is behind this, it seems intended to reassure a lot of nervous progressives, who have been blissfully wedded to the collusion narrative for more than a year, that they can keep hope alive. According to the source, Mueller has definitely not finished his investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with Russia:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors have not concluded their investigation into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person with knowledge of the probe.

Friday’s indictment of a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” and 13 Russian nationals should be seen as a limited slice of a comprehensive investigation, the person said. Mueller’s work is expected to continue for months and also includes examining potential obstruction of justice by Trump, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss an investigation that is largely confidential.

Of course, it’s possible this could all be true and accurate, but in the context of this afternoon’s news, it’s hard to miss the sense this was intended as a signal to the true believers out there. And given that a) Adam Schiff leaks like a sieve and b) collusion is his jam, he really does seem like a possible source for this story.

When news of the indictment broke this afternoon there was a mad scramble to get to the bottom line. Was this bad news for Trump? Or, on the contrary, did it suggest there was no evidence of collusion after all. Particularly concerning to many on the left was the statement that Trump campaign contacts with the Russian influence campaign had been “unwitting.” That sounded a little bit too much like the collusion calliope music winding down. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post interviewed a white-collar crime expert who argued that, with regard to collusion, we still didn’t know anything.

There’s some confusion around this point. The indictment says that some of the defendants “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.” At a presser just now, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein reiterated this, claiming that “there’s no allegation in this indictment” that any American was aware of the alleged crimes. (Emphasis mine.)

But Eliason tells me that we simply cannot know yet what this means. It could very well mean that Mueller has not, or will not, find any evidence of U.S. persons knowingly conspiring with these efforts. Or, Eliason says, it could mean there’s more to come.

“What remains unanswered is whether they had U.S. help,” Eliason tells me, adding that the language in the indictment “doesn’t mean the only people involved are these unwitting ones.”

In short, just because not everyone was colluding doesn’t mean no one was colluding. That’s cause for hope, I guess, but it seems pretty slim. Fortunately, the unnamed source (whose name might rhyme with Madam Cliff) has come forward and talked to Bloomberg to put minds at ease. Hooray!

Boom. Toldja that possibility wasn't foreclosed: https://t.co/VG6vaH3ZO8 https://t.co/28mDDDtD6g

— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) February 16, 2018

Honestly, I think Greg Sargent (and others) make a fair but extremely obvious point: We don’t know what else Mueller has. And because we don’t know it’s probably not wise to draw absolute conclusions about what today’s indictment means. That said, not knowing really does mean not knowing. It doesn’t mean proof of collusion is coming next or is waiting just around the corner. Even Bloomberg’s anonymous source seems to be trying to move the goalposts a little toward obstruction of justice.

But let’s face it, most on the left won’t care if the collusion story goes up in flames so long as Mueller hits Trump with something. We’ll have to wait a while longer to see if their hopes pan out.

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CNN: Why is Ted Cruz afraid to talk to us about guns? Cruz: I gave you a 15-minute interview yesterday

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 21:41

The timeline here is in dispute. CNN’s stupidity in making this demand is not.

Chris Cuomo, host of the network’s morning show, was grumpy yesterday that big-name Republicans like Cruz and Marco Rubio were turning up in the friendly confines of Fox News to discuss the Parkland massacre but not the supposed Thunderdome of CNN. Why don’t you come on my show, Cuomo taunted them, and try to cope with gun-control questions you’ve answered eight thousand times before in your political careers?

"What are they afraid of?" CNN calling out @FLGovScott, @TedCruz, @MarcoRubio for avoiding interviews pic.twitter.com/cizvTyU5XP

— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 15, 2018

That graphic appeared on Cuomo’s show Thursday morning, later trumpeted by their media critic/fanboy Brian Stelter. Cruz responded this morning:

Here's a pic of the @CNN interview — a 15-min exclusive given yesterday — that y'all still haven't aired… (While falsely claiming I'm "afraid" to talk to CNN.) https://t.co/Bo8AzsuGFX pic.twitter.com/sEtt4bTeUT

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 16, 2018

Why was Cuomo calling him out then? Stelter replied this afternoon that Cruz’s interview with the network didn’t happen until later in the day, hours after Cuomo’s show finished airing:

What are you talking about? On CNN's @NewDay, Cuomo pointed out that some GOP reps went on Fox but not CNN or other networks on the morning after the Parkland attack. I tweeted out the graphic from @NewDay at 9am. Later, in the 4pm hour, Cruz gave an interview.

— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 16, 2018

Cuomo chimed in again this morning:

Be clear: Cruz and others were invited to come on @NewDay and be tested about how to stop these shootings. They declined. If Cruz or others did an intv with Cnn thereafter fine, but they didn’t when we asked. Period. Offer stands. Anytime. Anywhere. https://t.co/Wxy1KsutIo

— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) February 16, 2018

Two conclusions seem inescapable. One: Cuomo doesn’t believe the afternoon interview his network conducted with Cruz was as penetrating as an interview he would have conducted. If he did, there’d be no need to reiterate that Cruz declined to appear on “New Day.” Cruz took CNN’s questions, for quite a long time by the standards of the average congressional interview, so why the tough-guy bravado from Cuomo hinting that Cruz is afraid to appear on his show? That’s a bizarre insinuation considering that Cruz is famously confident in his own debating skills — to the point where he’s faced off with left-wing darling Bernie Sanders at least three times in televised debates on, errrrrr, CNN. Maybe he did Fox’s show instead of CNN’s simply because he had a busy morning and could only spare time for one interview. Fear is an unlikely alternative explanation.

Two: This isn’t a request for an interview, it’s a taunt. A network news anchor, who (sort of) pretends to be fair and objective, taunted a right-wing U.S. senator and gun-rights proponent to come on his show and face the music after a school shooting. Cuomo wasn’t looking to interview him, he was looking to grandstand in front of him to earn some “Cuomo really took it to Cruz!” attaboys from likeminded anti-gun liberals. Why should Cruz do him that favor? If anything he did the network a favor by *not* appearing, as CNN already has a problem with too much emoting by the hosts over Republicans they dislike (i.e. Trump). If I were Cruz I’d tell CNN to get bent until Cuomo apologizes for behaving unprofessionally. If he wants to get taunted for thoughtcrimes on guns, he can go on the overtly partisan MSNBC and get taunted by the hosts honestly.

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Gov. Rick Scott: FBI Director Wray ‘needs to resign’ over Parkland failure

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 21:01

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is calling for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign in the wake of the revelation that the FBI received a warning about Nikolas Cruz prior to the shooting. Scott’s statement reads:

The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable. The FBI has admitted that they were contacted last month by a person who called to inform them of Cruz’s ‘desire to kill people,’ and ‘the potential of him conducting a school shooting.’

Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn’t going to cut it. An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or comfort the families who are in pain. The families will spend a lifetime wondering how this could happen, and an apology will never give them the answers they desperately need.

We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act. ‘See something, say something’ is an incredibly important tool and people must have confidence in the follow through from law enforcement. The FBI Director needs to resign.

This seems like something that could catch on. Sen. Marco Rubio didn’t go as far as calling for Wray resignation, but he did call the failure “inexcusable.” He also suggested the House and Senate should investigate how the FBI handles such tips:

It is inexcusable that the FBI failed to follow protocols and inform the Miami Field Office that people close to the Parkland, FL shooter warned the Bureau over a month ago of his desire to kill, his mental state, and erratic behavior.

The fact that the FBI is investigating this failure is not enough. Both the House and Senate need to immediately initiate their own investigations into the FBI’s protocols for ensuring tips from the public about potential killers are followed through. Lawmakers and law enforcement personnel constantly remind the public that ‘if you see something, say something.’ In this tragic case, people close to the shooter said something, and our system utterly failed the families of seventeen innocent souls.

Rubio’s reference to the FBI investigating is to another statement made today by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions released a statement saying he had ordered a review of the FBI’s failure in this instance but also of how the FBI responds to tips like this in general:

It is now clear that the warning signs were there and tips to the FBI were missed. We see the tragic consequences of those failures.

The FBI in conjunction with our state and local partners must act flawlessly to prevent all attacks. This is imperative, and we must do better. I have ordered the Deputy Attorney General to conduct an immediate review of our process here at the Department of Justice and FBI to ensure that we reach the highest level of prompt and effective response to indications of potential violence that come to us. This includes more than just an error review but also a review of how we respond. This will include possible consultation with family members, mental health officials, school officials, and local law enforcement.

We will make this a top priority. It has never been more important to encourage every person in every community to spot the warning signs and alert law enforcement. Do not assume someone else will step up–all of us must be vigilant. Our children’s lives depend on it.

Remember, there was talk just a couple weeks ago that Wray might resign (or should resign) over the release of the Nunes memo. That didn’t happen, obviously, but he may have already been feeling some uncertainty about his position at the FBI and thinking about his next move. Maybe the Parkland failure will be the last straw.

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Rod Rosenstein on Russian indictments: There’s nothing in these to suggest any Americans were “knowing participants” in illegal activity; Update: No collusion, says WH

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 20:21

Something for everyone here. If you think Russiagate’s a witch hunt, the word that leaped out at you from the indictments today was “unwitting.” Quote:

If Trump’s associates were “unwitting,” i.e. unaware that they were cooperating with Russians, what’s left of “collusion”? Maybe there’s a charge to be uncorked if Team Trump didn’t know it was talking to Russians but did believe that it was talking to other people who’d obtained the DNC and Podesta emails, like Wikileaks. The hacking is an underlying crime here, irrespective of whether the people responsible were foreign or domestic actors. But typically under U.S. law it’s not a crime to receive information that you’re not legally allowed to access, only to steal it in the first place. That’s why leakers can be imprisoned but the reporters to whom they pass their info can’t. If Team Trump coordinated with people who possessed the hacked emails in order to release them at critical moments during the campaign, is that in itself a crime? I’d guess not.

But if you think there’s something to Russiagate, you might pay attention to the exact words Rod Rosenstein uses at 5:20 of the clip below. He doesn’t say there’s no evidence, period, that Americans (i.e. Team Trump) knowingly participated in Russian campaign chicanery. He says there’s nothing about that in this indictment, which deals specifically with the Russian Internet troll farm. Are more indictments coming that point to collusion with different Russian agents? Stay tuned.

A question: If there’s no way to extradite the Russians to stand trial, why bother indicting them in the first place? I think these explanations are correct.

The Russians will never allow for the extradition of their people listed in this indictment. This is a public statement by Mueller that this isn’t a witch hunt and that there was Russian interference.

— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) February 16, 2018

Between Papadopolous and latest indictments, plus Trump Tower meeting and other interactions, there's little doubt that Russians actively tried to coordinate with Trump campaign and pass along dirt on HRC. Question still is whether Trump officials knowingly sought to collude

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 16, 2018

Most of the media chatter about Mueller’s probe lately has focused on the possible obstruction charges against Trump and his inner circle for firing Comey, etc. The comparative silence around the collusion prong of the investigation suggested that maybe there wasn’t much there after all. The indictments may be Mueller’s way of showing the public that the Russians did interfere, albeit with motives more complicated than just trying to help Trump. The next time someone calls Russiagate a nothingburger, opponents can point to the Manafort, Flynn, and Russian indictments and say “some nothingburger.”

Another interesting point from former prosecutor Renato Mariotti. The Russians were charged with fraud, identity theft, and conspiracy (to hide foreign interference in an election from the U.S. government). Trump’s associates may not have known that they were dealing with Russians specifically but did they know that they were dealing with people who’d committed crimes?

8/ Because of the particular crimes Mueller chose to charge, an American would have had to know about the efforts by the Russian to hide their activities–not just the influence operation itself–to be criminally liable. Did any Americans help the Russians hide their operation?

— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 16, 2018

In fact, Mueller announced a separate indictment for identity fraud just this afternoon of someone named Richard Pinedo, who ran a website buying and selling bank account numbers for people who wanted to evade security measures on e-payment systems. He has no connection to Trump or his associates (that we know of) but he’s cooperating in the investigation. Hmmm.

Update: They’re jumping the gun here but you can’t fault them for claiming a little victory in the “unwitting” part that I noted above.

New White House statement from @PressSec on the Russia indictments includes the all-caps phrase "NO COLLUSION." pic.twitter.com/OY1GS3YDyv

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) February 16, 2018

There are, by one count, five different prongs of the Russiagate investigation. Today’s indictments appear to say that there was no evidence of collusion between the Russians and Trump’s associates in one of those prongs. Could be that there’ll be no evidence of collusions in the others either — that’s how I’d wager — but Mueller didn’t clear Team Trump entirely today.

In fact, depending upon how clever you think Mueller is, I wonder if he led with these indictments precisely *because* he knew the White House would seize on the “unwitting” passage in the indictment. By trumpeting Mueller’s conclusions, Trump is helping to legitimizing the investigation. The more legitimacy it has, the harder it’ll be for POTUS to pull the plug on it later if Mueller announces an indictment that’s less politically pleasing.

Update: There’s this too:

Trump had disputed that there was Russian interference, saying the whole story was a wild partisan hoax. Now, with Russians charged with interfering in the election, he says: 1) The interfering started before he arrived; 2) Didn't affect outcome; 3) Still a wild partisan hoax?

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 16, 2018

POTUS has been famously skeptical from the start that Russia was behind the DNC and Podesta hackings. Now Mueller drops an indictment on more than a dozen Russians for other activities that interfered in the campaign and he’s pointing to it as proof that there was no collusion. Does this mean he at least accepts that Russia did mess around in the campaign in 2016?

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Mueller releases indictment for 13 Russians, 3 entities for conspiracy to interfere in election

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 19:41

A federal grand jury working with Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe has indicted 13 Russians and three Russia-based organizations on multiple counts of fraud, alleging a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 US elections. The allegations make a compelling case for the seriousness of the Russian propaganda operation. However, a close reading of the indictment also makes an argument that Mueller might not have a case for collusion — yet, anyway:

BREAKING: Robert Mueller indicts 13 Russians for election meddling pic.twitter.com/bhwaCegSCW

— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 16, 2018

The indictment accuses Yevgeny Prigozhin, a crony of Vladimir Putin, of running the operation — an accusation that will no doubt have diplomatic consequences in both directions. The Russians spent 2014 and 2015 setting up front organizations and researching American voters and the candidates, according to the indictment. By 2016, they had the interference effort well under way. But what was their motivation? They wanted to support Donald Trump — but also Bernie Sanders:

In fact, when reading through the indictment, it becomes clear that the conspiracy cared more about Hillary Clinton than either Trump or Bernie Sanders. Don’t forget that the overwhelming conventional wisdom — right down to Election Night — was that Hillary would win the presidency. The Russian interference campaign appears intended to rattle confidence in that result, as well as stoke a lot of conspiratorial thinking in the meantime.

Their paid advertising tends to support that conclusion, too. The defendants set up fake bank accounts — a very indictable action — to pay for social-media advertisements. Only three of these are endorsements for Trump without any other mention of Hillary, all after Sanders had been all but eliminated from the nomination:

Between the conventions and the election, all of their activities were aimed at either supporting Trump, except in one case where they supported Jill Stein, or opposing Hillary. After the election, however, they began conducting attacks on both Trump and Hillary, including arranging competing rallies on the same day in two different cities:

If nothing else, this makes the purpose of the operation clear — to stoke mistrust in the election and to damage the winner. Had Trump been considered a favorite to win, the Russian operation may have targeted him more before the election, but they clearly didn’t hesitate to attack him after his win.

The indictment makes other representations as well, alleging that the social-media efforts ended up engaging a significant number of Americans. What it doesn’t allege is that this had an impact on voter choice, and there is no mention at all of penetrating voting systems to perpetrate direct voter fraud. That doesn’t negate the hostile actions taken by a foreign power, nor does it make the identity and banking theft less illegal, but neither does it present an argument that the election itself was not credible or reliable.

Also absent from this indictment is any indication at all of connections to the Trump campaign, or any other candidate or party campaign, for that matter. All of the contacts in this indictment between defendants and other US persons are depicted as unwitting, part of the fraud perpetrated by the defendants. The DoJ press release makes specific note of this:

To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.

The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.

There may be one exception to this, but it’s not on the propaganda operations. Mueller’s office also announced the indictment of a Richard Pinedo of California for wire fraud relating to the sale of bank account numbers to foreign nationals. He’s already pled guilty to the charge. The indictment doesn’t specifically say it relates to the Russian operations, but it’s probably safe to assume it. It also contains no mention at all of legitimate US political or campaign operations.

It may be that Mueller’s holding off on other allegations until he nails down evidence of collusion, but then why release this indictment at all? It’s not like the defendants will skip the country; none of them are here now as it is, and they won’t ever get extradited unless they’re stupid enough to travel to a country willing to send them our way. If Mueller had evidence of collusion, he should have waited to release this indictment until he could make the full case, demonstrating where Trump or others engaged with Prigozhin. Instead, it looks like this was just a Merry Pranksters operation run out of Russia, or perhaps better put, Scary Pranksters.

Let’s also recall what the specific theory of collusion was. The allegation was that the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to hack the DNC and expose their bad treatment of Sanders, along with other embarrassments. This indictment doesn’t mention the DNC hack at all. It’s still possible that Mueller’s working that on a separate track, but the public perception of collusion has morphed into the Trump campaign coordinating with the propaganda operation. This indictment sure seems to indicate that there’s no support for that theory of collusion, either.

At this point, it seems that the only crimes to come out of the Mueller probe will either be unrelated to its original mission or process crimes that have nothing to do with so-called collusion. This indictment certainly seems to tell a full and self-contained story.

Update: Allahpundit will have more, but let me add one more observation. This indictment shows that the issue of Russian interference into US elections was not and is not a “nothingburger.” The Russians apparently threw a ton of resources into this, and it didn’t just result in propaganda, but also wire fraud, bank fraud, and identity theft, among other things. It also doesn’t prove that “collusion” is a nothingburger, but it doesn’t give any indication that there’s anything to it either.

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FBI: We received a tip on January 5 that Parkland shooter was a danger — but “protocols were not followed”

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 18:21

The tipster apparently gave them every detail of the nightmare to come — Cruz was homicidal, he had a gun, he was telegraphing his intentions on social media. The caller even knew that he was interested in shooting up a school. That means the FBI was informed not once but twice in the span of a little more than three months that someone named “Nikolas Cruz” was a threat to public safety. (The infamous YouTube comment in which someone posting as “Nikolas Cruz” said he planned to be a “professional school shooter” was left on September 24.)

Nothing happened. And so a horrendous attack is now also a horrendous scandal.

I wonder if the FBI’s already damaged reputation will ever recover.

BREAKING: FBI says Jan. 5 tip about the suspected Florida school shooter was received by FBI's Public Access Line but "protocols were not followed" to escalate the tip for further investigation – https://t.co/kdrUxk2XiK pic.twitter.com/iBnPWKHQGA

— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 16, 2018

Who was the caller who knew Cruz’s plans so well? I thought he had no friends. Was it a member of the family he stayed with after his mother died last fall?

The FBI was directly warned twice but local law enforcement had known for years that Cruz was “troubled.” CNN reported this morning that deputies visited his home no fewer than 39 times(!) since 2010 for problems including “a mentally ill person, child/elderly abuse, a domestic disturbance and a missing person.” Records don’t indicate which resident in the home was the cause of their visits but I haven’t read anything in the last few days suggesting that his mother or brother had trouble with the law. (His father passed away years earlier.) Most of those visits, if not all, were likely aimed at Cruz. He reportedly would introduce himself to people sometimes by saying, “Hi, I’m Nick. I’m a school shooter.” The next-door neighbor remembered that he “would sometimes be hitting his head and covering his ears.” Once, when she sent him home after misbehaving at her house, he returned with a golf club and smashed her trailer. He bought his AR-15 just three days after leaving school last January.

Reporters asked the FBI yesterday, before news of the missed January 5 tip emerged, why they didn’t act on the YouTube comment last fall. WaPo:

Without more to go on, officials felt there wasn’t enough legal justification to issue a subpoena to YouTube for the underlying information about the “nikolas cruz” who had threatened a school shooting, a law enforcement official said…

Hosko, the former FBI assistant director, said the FBI gets more than 100 threat reports each day, in addition to other reports of mental health and other issues. That leaves supervisors in the difficult position of deciding how many resources should be devoted to each case and for how long. Even in terrorism cases, Hosko said, the bureau sometimes has to leave suspects unmonitored because the FBI lacks personnel to follow each of them all the time…

Hosko said in most cases of possible threats, an early question supervisors ask is, “At the end of the day, would we even have a federal crime if we proved a person sent this or posted this?” And in Cruz’s case — where the comment is a not a specific threat — the answer was probably no, he said.

That was a defensible position yesterday. Unless you want a Chinese surveillance state, you can’t go chasing after every crank in the YouTube comments section. How many man-hours would you want to invest in hunting down someone who farted out something about a school shooting, only to find he’s a troll with a sick sense of humor? “Without more to go on,” the YouTube comment wasn’t alarming enough in its own right to warrant an FBI scramble.

But it turns out they did have more to go on, didn’t they? And remember, the report of the YouTube comment must have been saved somewhere in the FBI’s system because agents showed up to speak to the man who reported it last September within hours of Wednesday’s massacre. If Cruz’s name was in a database, why didn’t the January 5 tip about him get cross-checked with that database? Two independent reports of Cruz’s designs on shooting up a school surely would have set off alarm bells. Those alarm bells would have led them to inquire more broadly about Cruz, which would have turned up 39 police visits and the purchase of an AR-15. Would all of that have been enough for probable cause sufficient for a search warrant? Seems possible.

Here’s where I point you back to my post yesterday speculating that the effort to end school shootings will ultimately focus not on gun-grabbing or mental-health treatment but on greater surveillance and data-collection aimed at “troubled” people. People will look at all of the red flags I just noted and wonder why they weren’t collected somewhere centrally; each individual red flag is one tile in the mosaic, not necessarily dangerous in itself, but step back and look at the mosaic itself and it’s a portrait of mass murder. Not coincidentally, the sheriff of Broward County appealed explicitly to the government yesterday to give law enforcement the power to detain and commit people based on disturbing social media posts. “People are going to be rightfully so concerned about their rights, as am I, but what about the rights of these students?” he said. That’s the debate that’s coming.

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Trump: It’s a low-down dirty shame how Democrats abandoned “dreamers,” you know

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 17:41

Consider this a head start on the 2018 midterm campaign. Donald Trump’s on his way to Florida for the weekend, planning to meet with officials about the Parkland mass shooting and to get away as usual to his resort, Mar-A-Lago. On his way out, Trump took a parting shot at Democrats who blocked his preferred deal on DACA and border security in a Senate vote-off, and possibly a few Republicans as well:

Cannot believe how BADLY DACA recipients have been treated by the Democrats…totally abandoned! Republicans are still working hard.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018

It’s worth noting, as Allahpundit did last night, that Trump’s proposal got the least amount of support of the four major bills offered on the cloture call. It only scored 39 votes, as thirteen Republicans voted against it. Two Democrats crossed over and voted for the Grassley-sponsored bill, Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), perhaps the two most endangered red-state Democrats in the upper chamber. Trump’s proposal didn’t even get a majority, cloture or not. Of course, none of the bills got the necessary 60 votes, which makes this somewhat of an academic point — for now, anyway.

Democrats think they can outwait Trump, in part because two federal courts have proscribed the president’s authority to end DACA. As long as the program remains operational, they can claim that they’re using what leverage they have to force Trump into a “clean DACA” deal, allowing them to dispense with funding for the border wall and the immigration-policy changes Trump has been demanding. However, that’s a risky strategy — and the Supreme Court may blow it up long before the midterms:

With the fate of the 700,000 Dreamers, who were brought illegally into the United States years ago as children, still in limbo, the high court’s nine justices were set to meet privately on Friday morning to discuss what cases they will hear.

If the court does not act on Friday, it could do so on Tuesday, after Monday’s Presidents Day holiday.

If they accept the Trump appeal, they would likely not rule on it until late June. If they refuse to hear it, the lower court ruling would stay in effect while litigation continues.

If this has to percolate through the lower courts and appellate level, it might not come to the Supreme Court until next term, which means Democrats won’t have to pay any consequence for refusing to restrict family unification policy and fund the border wall Congress authorized in 2006 — at least until after the midterms. If, however, the court decides to take it up immediately as an emergency, it might mean that DACA will come to a screeching halt in June, leaving Democrats to answer to very angry activists about why they surrendered their budgetary leverage in February and March.

We might find out today whether they will take up the case, but when they do, the White House has good reason for optimism. First, DACA’s provisions for work permits (among other issues) violates statutes already in place, which makes the Obama-era policy an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Second, one president’s policies (in EOs or any other form) cannot bind succeeding presidencies. Even if one president can order DACA as a form of prosecutorial discretion, a succeeding president can undo it under the same authority. If that creates problems for program recipients, it’s a good reason why these types of policies should come in the form of statutes in the first place.

However, the value of Trump’s argument will only come into play when it becomes apparent just how badly Democrats shafted the DACA population. That won’t happen unless the Supreme Court intervenes in such a way as to allow Trump to shut it down, calling the Democrats’ bluff and reframing the debate on his terms again. Trump went further in his proposal than conservatives wanted to allow, offering a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million people in the country illegally in exchange for policies that would prevent the need for a DACA in the future — a border wall and changes in policies to discourage illegal entries down the road. That’s still a good solution to the DACA standoff; we’ll see if the Supreme Court provides a catalyst for a more rapid resolution.

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