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Updated: 1 hour 1 min ago

Ten Commandments monument destroyed day after installation

1 hour 41 min ago

Call off the ACLU, at least for now. The state of Arkansas installed a monument to the Ten Commandments on its Capitol grounds on Tuesday, after a controversial two-year battle over the nature of the First Amendment. The ACLU had planned to sue the state over the monument, but someone else took more direct actionwith their car:

A 6-foot-tall stone Ten Commandments monument installed Tuesday on the Arkansas Capitol grounds was toppled less than 24 hours later after a 32-year-old Arkansas man drove a vehicle into the statue, police said.

Chris Powell, a spokesman with the Secretary of State’s Office, said he was called early Tuesday and told a man drove a vehicle through the monument. That driver — identified in an arrest report as Michael Tate Reed of Van Buren — was arrested by Capitol police shortly after, Powell said. Investigators believe Reed recorded himself as he drove into the statue, Powell added.

The arrest report said an officer around 4:45 a.m. spotted a dark-colored vehicle “start from a stopped position and ram the Ten Commandments monument.”

“I immediately exited my vehicle and placed the subject in custody,” Corporal Chad Durham wrote, noting Reed was first taken to a local hospital before being booked into the Pulaski County jail.

Here’s the video of the installation yesterday:

And the aftermath this morning:

Capitol crews sweep up remnants of the shattered 10 Commandments monument, toppled by a driver who is now in police custody #ARnews #arpx

— Emma Pettit (@EmmaJanePettit) June 28, 2017

In Exodus 32, Moses broke the tablets himself in anger, and the Lord provided new tablets for the commandments in Exodus 34. It may take a little longer for the state of Arkansas to get another tablet for their monument. Although it was installed on Capitol grounds, it didn’t get state funds; the law passed by state senator Jason Rapert (R) only allowed for its placement. Over $26,000 was raised from private sources to produce and install the monument, which seems like a bargain when seeing the final monument — in its pre-broken state, that is. Backers will have to raise the funds again, and donors might be a little more skittish the second time around.

The ACLU lawsuit was pretty much de rigueur for the group. They lost a similar battle in 2005 when they tried to get a Ten Commandments monument removed from the capital in Texas, although as Yahoo News points out, the context was somewhat different; the monument there had additional historic value. However, the specific finding in the controlling plurality opinion from then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist in Van Orden v Perry reflected the historical nature of the commandments themselves as they related to the evolution of secular laws, rather than to the physical monument:

This case, moreover, is distinguishable from instances where the Court has found Ten Commandments displays impermissible. The display is not on the grounds of a public school, where, given the impressionability of the young, government must exercise particular care in separating church and state. See, e.g., Weisman,449 U. S. 39 (1980) (per curiam). This case also differs from McCreary County, where the short (and stormy) history of the courthouse Commandments’ displays demonstrates the substantially religious objectives of those who mounted them, and the effect of this readily apparent objective upon those who view them. See, post, at 21-25 (opinion of the Court). That history there indicates a governmental effort substantially to promote religion, not simply an effort primarily to reflect, historically, the secular impact of a religiously inspired document. And, in today’s world, in a Nation of so many different religious and comparable nonreligious fundamental beliefs, a more contemporary state effort to focus attention upon a religious text is certainly likely to prove divisive in a way that this longstanding, pre-existing monument has not.

For these reasons, I believe that the Texas display–serving a mixed but primarily nonreligious purpose, not primarily “advanc[ing]” or “inhibit[ing] religion,” and not creating an “excessive government entanglement with religion,”–might satisfy this Court’s more formal Establishment Clause tests. Lemon, 403 U. S., at 612-613 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Capitol Square, 515 U. S., at 773-783 (O’Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). But, as I have said, in reaching the conclusion that the Texas display falls on the permissible side of the constitutional line, I rely less upon a literal application of any particular test than upon consideration of the basic purposes of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses themselves. This display has stood apparently uncontested for nearly two generations. That experience helps us understand that as a practical matter of degree this display is unlikely to prove divisive. And this matter of degree is, I believe, critical in a borderline case such as this one.

Would this case have fit the Van Orden test? It seems at least somewhat likely that this particular court would have found a bare majority in favor of it. Of course, we won’t know unless the monument gets replaced and the ACLU follows through on its challenge. That’s a lot more interesting than having a nutcase take the law into his own hands and destroy the monument, for which the state of Arkansas will hopefully deliver a just punishment that will serve as a warning to others similarly inclined. Or maybe they can post a barrier in front the next time, with the words Thou shalt not destroy that which is not yours carved into it.

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Showdown: Sarah Palin vs the New York Times

2 hours 20 min ago

This should be interesting. The New York Post is reporting that Sarah Palin has filed a defamation lawsuit against their chief competitor, the New York Times, over their ill-conceived and repeatedly “edited” article which seemed to place at least part of the blame for the baseball practice shooting on Palin’s “political rhetoric” from 2011. Yes, folks. The fur is about to fly.

Former Governor of Alaska and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is suing the New York Times for defamation over a recent editorial tying one of her political action committee ads to a 2011 mass shooting that severely wounded Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords and killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl​, The Post has learned​.

The Manhattan federal court lawsuit, filed Tuesday by lawyers Kenneth Turkel, Shane Vogt and S. Preston Ricardo, accuse​s​ the Gray Lady of having “violated the law and its own policies” when it accused her — in a “fabricated story” — of inciting the 2011 attack by Jared Lee Loughner.

Palin, who emerged on ​​the national political scene as running mate to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is seeking damages in an amount to be determined by a jury at trial.

For their part, the Gray Lady is saying that they “haven’t reviewed the claim yet” but will defend themselves vigorously. That process clearly begins with their own coverage of the lawsuit, in which they point out repeatedly that they have owned up to their “mistakes” and apologized. (New York Times)

The Times later issued a correction, saying that there was no established link between political statements and the shooting and that the map circulated by Ms. Palin’s PAC had depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath the stylized cross hairs. The NYT Opinion Twitter account also sent out the correction about the lack of a link, apologizing and saying that it appreciated that readers had pointed out the mistake.

Yet again, that’s a statement which is sort of, kind of true, but doesn’t really tell the whole story. Yes, they made corrections (plural, which I’ll get to in a moment) and they did issue an apology, but it was never an apology for the obvious implication which essentially accused Palin of inciting murder. They simply apologized for “getting their facts wrong” about the map in question and only partially for the allegation of connections between the map and the shooter.

Normally it’s tough to sue a newspaper for defamation over something their board publishes in an editorial (which is an opinion piece by definition as opposed to a news item) but this case may be different. First of all, as already mentioned, it wasn’t a single error. It was multiple errors and multiple corrections. And even then, as John Sexton reported at the time, they may have torpedoed their own defense by sending out James Bennet, their editorial page editor, to insist that the errors didn’t undercut their underlying argument.

In a statement provided to CNN by a spokesperson, James Bennet, the Times’ editorial page editor, thanked CNN for calling the error to their attention. Of the larger issue with the editorial, he said, “While it’s always agonizing to get something wrong we appreciate it when our readers call us out like this. We made an error of fact in the editorial, and we’ve corrected it. But that error doesn’t undercut or weaken the argument of the piece.”

If the “error of fact” (which is Bennet’s term, not mine) does not “undercut or weaken the argument of the piece” then what would that tell a jury hearing the case? The primary argument they were putting forward was that the climate of rhetorical hate and violence could be plotted in a direct line to both the Giffords and Scalise shootings. And the example they chose to cite was Sarah Palin. When they made their second edit about the link between the map and the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, all they said was that, “no such link was established.” That obviously leaves some wiggle room in the minds of the readers, as if to say, we couldn’t prove there was a link, but we couldn’t disprove it either.

In fact, as has been widely reported, Loughner had been fixated on and chasing after Giffords for years before Sarah Palin came on the scene and he made no mention of the map or anything else to do with Palin. That wasn’t made at all clear in the correction or the apology, such as it was. With all that in mind, what do you think? Palin just might have a case here.

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Hmm: China’s national oil firm cuts off North Korea

3 hours 1 min ago

Has North Korea run out of credit with China, or has Beijing finally run out of patience with Pyongyang? China’s state-run petroleum operation has cut off fuel sales to rogue nation, Reuters reports, ostensibly due to a lack of payment. However, it’s no secret that the Trump administration has put a lot of pressure on Beijing to get tougher with the Kim regime, and a fuel cutoff will hit Kim Jong-un where he’s most vulnerable:

China National Petroleum Corp has suspended sales of fuel to North Korea over concerns the state-owned oil company won’t get paid, as pressure mounts on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes, three sources told Reuters.

It’s unclear how long the suspension will last. A prolonged cut would threaten critical supplies of fuel and force North Korea to find alternatives to its main supplier of diesel and gasoline, as scrutiny of China’s close commercial ties with its increasingly isolated neighbour intensifies.

North Korea needs the fuel not just for its farmers and shipping, but also for its military. That presents a particularly difficult problem for Pyongyang’s leaders, who already operate in a crisis-shortage environment. Kim can’t afford to cut back on military supplies, not with all of the saber rattling taking place at the moment, which means he’ll have to starve the rest of the country of fuel resources, which will hamper food production and distribution even further. It will ratchet up internal tension, and it might get worse if military needs can’t be satisfied.

CNPC won’t sell the fuel on credit, Reuters’ Chen Aizhu notes, which means that Pyongyang is having trouble coming up with hard currency. Aizhu’s source says the issue came up over “the last month or two,” and that timing is intriguing. Four months ago, Kim ordered a bizarre assassination of his older brother Kim Jong-nam, using VX nerve agent in the airport of Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur.  The target and especially the weapon made it clear who ordered the hit, and Malaysia — one of the few nations willing to do business with North Korea — cut off diplomatic and economic ties to Pyongyang, which set off a round of hostage-taking by the Kim regime. Malaysia had been a key partner in avoiding international sanctions and a vital link to hard currency for Pyongyang until the assassination. If North Korea has had trouble paying for diesel and gasoline over the last couple of months, it might signal that Pyongyang has no more options for avoiding sanctions and that its economic back is against the wall, so to speak.

Aizhu’s sources say that this was a “commercial decision,” but nothing’s that simple in China. Beijing had already cut off coal imports from North Korea, depriving Kim of income that could have been used to pay for the fuel. It looks like a squeeze, one that may be picking up in intensity, and one that sends a direct message to North Korea’s military leaders, who will understand only too well what a fuel embargo will do to their readiness posture. It won’t take much more for the situation to reach critical mass on the Korean peninsula.

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Helicopter attacks Venezuelan Supreme Court as meltdown continues

3 hours 41 min ago

Most of the force employed by starving Venezuelan protesters thus far has come in the form of hurled rocks or bottles as they battle well armed militia forces. Their game was stepped up considerably this week however when an aerial assault component was briefly added to the arsenal. A police officer who is sympathetic to the protesters stole a helicopter, armed himself with grenades and guns, and conducted a strafing run on the Supreme Court building. Needless to say, President Nicolas Maduro began to go into panic mode. (BBC)

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has been attacked by grenades dropped from a helicopter in what President Nicolás Maduro called a “terrorist attack”.

Footage on social media shows a police helicopter circling over the city before shots and a loud bang are heard.

The police officer said to have piloted the stolen aircraft issued a statement denouncing the “criminal government”.

President Maduro has faced months of mass protests amid a political and economic crisis.

The pilot didn’t manage to kill or even injure anyone at the “social event” taking place at the Supreme Court, but the message was clear. Maduro has a lot more than a few starving peasants with sticks and stones to deal with here. He’s calling it a “terrorist attack” and, by strict definitions, I suppose that’s fair. For the time being, Maduro is still in charge of the legitimate government of Venezuela (or the closest thing they have to a legitimate government, anyway) so an attack on the court building could indeed be considered a “terror attack.” But at the same time, it’s part of a concerted effort coming from inside the nation, not outside, to take down their own tyrant.

This came on the heels of incendiary remarks that Maduro made the previous evening, which John Sexton already wrote about here. But I wanted to touch on another part of that speech which didn’t receive quite as much attention. While everyone focused on Maduro’s threat to “use weapons” to fight his opponents in the event that his regime falls, he also had additional messages for President Donald Trump. He’s still trying to blame the United States for the unrest in the streets, but now he’s also attempting to scare Trump by promising a flood of refugees. (Reuters, emphasis added)

Maduro, who accuses Washington of backing his opponents and seeking to control the nation’s oil wealth, said the “destruction” of Venezuela would lead to a huge refugee wave dwarfing the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

Listen, President Donald Trump,” he said.

You would have to build 20 walls in the sea, a wall from Mississippi to Florida, from Florida to New York, it would be crazy … You have the responsibility: stop the madness of the violent Venezuelan right wing.”

Maduro may be a despotic tyrant, but he’s not stupid and he clearly pays attention to international news and is seeking ways to play foreign powers to his advantage. In only a few abbreviated sentences he attempted to ring the bells of the White House by touching on two significant talking points. He’s threatening a flood of refugees just as our President is taking a victory lap over his travel ban and closer scrutiny of any refugees seeking to enter America. And for the icing on the cake, Maduro threatens Trump with the need to build additional walls around the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an obvious dig at the slow progress Trump has been making in getting the wall on the southern border started.

Part of what Maduro is saying may simply be bluster and rhetoric to inspire his remaining supporters, but I just get the feeling that he’s serious. While every sane person has doubtless been hoping that he would relent and hold elections which might see him out the door peacefully, I simply can’t see him doing it. I think Maduro will cling to power for as long as he can and then, if his people do manage to toss him out, he’ll make good on his promise to wage war on his own native soil to take it back.

And thus we return to our often repeated lesson which everyone should be taking away from the unfolding chaos in Venezuela. This is how socialism ends. This is how socialism always ends. We are now entering the phase of the game where the true face of the monster is revealed and we move from marching and chants to bullets and blood. God help all the citizens of Venezuela.

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Pelosi: Let’s face it, this Republican health-care bill dishonors God

13 hours 1 min ago

Via the Free Beacon, deep thoughts from a self-described devout Catholic with a 100 percent rating from NARAL. I’m firmly in the “crazy people are responsible for their own actions” camp when it comes to dangerous cranks assaulting innocent bystanders, but if you’re a “climate of hate” worrier, maybe consider how rhetoric like this is apt to play in the minds of aspiring James Hodgkinsons out there.

Actually, when you remember that many liberals think Obama is God, this soundbite makes perfect sense.

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ICE inquiry causes 30 workers to mysteriously disappear from Maryland restaraunt

13 hours 41 min ago

A funny thing happened at the BoatHouse Canton restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland last week. It seems that on June 22 they received a letter notifying them that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was requesting copies of the I-9 forms for their employees. Those are the forms which show that an employer has done their due diligence and ensured that applicants are in the country legally and are eligible for the jobs they seek. The owners passed that word on to the staff and the following day, in what is clearly an unfathomable mystery, nearly three dozen of their workers failed to show up and said they were afraid to come back. (Baltimore Sun)

“We encouraged people to stay but we understood if they felt uncomfortable,” [owner Gene] Singleton said. “They were fearful of just not knowing what was going to happen and being separated from their families. They said they were going to have to go home and take care of their families.”

ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said the agency doesn’t “confirm the existence of any ongoing investigation.”

Singleton said his staff reviewed their policies and found no lapses in the paperwork they use to determine legal status.

“We have proper paperwork,” he said. “We don’t know whether they were all legal or partially legal or not legal.”

The interview with the owner is interesting to say the least. He claims that all of his I-9 paperwork is in order (which we can’t verify since ICE doesn’t comment about ongoing investigations) but he goes on to say that he “doesn’t know whether” the employees are “all legal, partially legal or not legal.” But if your I-9s are all filled out properly, wouldn’t you know that they were all legal? Did you use the free E-Verify system? And if the employees actually were all up to date on their paperwork, why would they flee?

Of course, the possibility exists that some of them are here working legally but have relatives or friends living with them who they know are illegal and are afraid that ICE might be paying them a visit at home. That’s just speculation, obviously, but if that were the case then they would still be in violation of the law for knowingly harboring an illegal alien. And if you’re here on a green card or work visa, that could be enough to get you in dutch with the law and possibly deported as well.

Here’s the thing about this story. What’s you’re seeing is another variation of the Trump Effect. Notice that there wasn’t a raid. There wasn’t a single officer showing up at the restaurant. There wasn’t even a phone call. They sent out a form letter and the presumably illegal immigrants hit the trail. The owner himself admitted that if this had happened last year there probably wouldn’t have been much of a reaction (which makes me think that this isn’t the first time he’s had a run-in with ICE) but now all it takes is a rumor and illegal aliens hit the road.

This might be a parallel to the factoid indicating that illegal border crossings began plummeting as soon as Trump was sworn in, long before any additional officers or resources were put in place at the border. All it took was the name and the widespread reports that a new sheriff was in town and he was about to get serious about immigration control and enforcement.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

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Florida man arrested for threatening to kill Republican state representative

14 hours 21 min ago

Jose Diaz is a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives. Sunday someone left a death threat on his Facebook page and, with the recent shooting of Republican lawmakers in mind, Diaz reported the threat to police. From the NBC Miami:

“I’ll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next rec meeting,” the post read, according to an arrest report…

St. Felix was later arrested at his home. After his arrest, St. Felix admitted he made the threat and said he “is fed up with the Republican party,” the arrest report said.

The “rec meeting” mentioned in the threat was actually a reference to the 2017 Lincoln Day Dinner, a Republican fundraiser scheduled for tonight. The headline speaker at the event this year is Kellyanne Conway.

Mr. St. Felix appeared before a judge today and was given a $500,000 bond. His attorney argued that St. Felix had a mental condition and that the bond amount was unfair because her client was not working. The judge replied that St. Felix was already out on bond on another charge of making a similar threat against a public servant. From 7News Miami:

In bond court, 7News learned Felix was out on bond after threatening another public servant and has a history of making threats.

“One of the previous cases involved a called threat to Miami Gardens Police Department,” said a prosecutor, “so it was an extremely serious threat that was done at that time.”

Rep. Diaz told 7News, “It’s impossible to see that sort of threat and not think immediately of Virginia, what happened to Congressman Scalise.” He added, “He was in public. He thought he was safe, and he wasn’t.”

This is exactly the sort of situation Democrats once said we needed to be concerned about, i.e. a disturbed individual who seems to be tuning into the rhetoric he is hearing in the media and channeling that into threats against lawmakers. And you don’t have to look far for unhinged Democratic rhetoric. For example:

Forget death panels. If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party.

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 23, 2017

I’ve read the Republican “health care” bill. This is blood money. They’re paying for tax cuts with American lives.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 22, 2017

And this is just what is coming from the “responsible” leadership of the party. The rhetoric coming from many rank and file Democrats is a lot less restrained. So, two weeks after an attempted assassination of Republicans, are we still concerned about the tone of our political rhetoric? Or does that only interest us when Republicans can be blamed?

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Chaffetz: House needs housing allowances?

15 hours 1 min ago

Are members of Congress underpaid? Jason Chaffetz has resigned from office effective this week, and in an outgoing interview with The Hill he suggests that financial considerations played a significant role in that decision. Chaffetz calls the salary for House members “handsome,” but the costs of living in two different places at the same time make the job impossible for all but the wealthy:

“I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” Chaffetz told The Hill in an interview in his Capitol office, where he sleeps whenever he’s in Washington. “In today’s climate, nobody’s going to suggest or vote for a pay raise. But you shouldn’t have to be among the wealthiest of Americans to serve properly in Congress.” …

“Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive places in the world, and I flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college and a second place here in Washington, D.C.,” Chaffetz said. “I think a $2,500 housing allowance would be appropriate and a real help to have at least a decent quality of life in Washington if you’re going to expect people to spend hundreds of nights a year here. …

“There are dozens upon dozens of members living in their offices, and I don’t know how healthy that is long term.”

While Chaffetz said $174,000 a year is a “handsome” congressional salary, he explained that subsidizing lawmakers’ housing costs in the pricey D.C. metro area could actually save taxpayer dollars. If he had a proper home in Washington rather than a cot in his office, Chaffetz said, he wouldn’t need to fly home every week on the taxpayers’ dime, and his wife, Julie, could visit more often.

Until relatively recently, the problem didn’t exist — because most members of Congress moved to Washington, and only kept an address in their district or state for voting. That became a major political liability a few decades ago, and in fact continues to exert a powerful influence on voters. Evan Bayh got creamed in his Senate comeback attempt last year in part because he had moved to Washington, making it easy for now-Senator Todd Young to paint Bayh as an out-of-touch establishment lobbyist, a charge that stuck:

“The only time he ever shows up in Indiana is when he wants something from us,” Trevor Foughty, campaign manager for Bayh’s opponent Rep. Todd Young, told CNN. “And he’s so unbelievably arrogant, he actually thinks Hoosiers don’t notice.”

A move to the Beltway has become a dangerous option politically, especially for House members, who have to stand for election every two years. That forces incumbents to either maintain two residences, or to sleep in the office, and as Chaffetz notes the latter has become more the norm than the exception. While it might be relatively easy to maintain one DC residence on the House salary, it would be almost impossible to maintain two without independent wealth to make up the difference. Hence, Chaffetz makes a good point about the eventual skewing of candidates towards the upper crust, except for those in closer proximity to the Beltway.

However, does it make sense for taxpayers to cough up a housing allowance on top of the salary in order to prevent that? That would come to a little over $16 million annually (for all 535 members of Congress), which isn’t exactly chump change, but it’s not a major additional expense to the federal budget either. If that meant a significant reduction or end to taxpayer-financed flights home to the home district and states, the net outlay might drop even further.

The problem — especially in these populist times — is that it will be seen to encourage Congressional careerists to an even greater extent than we see now. Which is better: guarding against a trend toward independently wealthy candidates to have a more representative Congress, or an economic incentive that pushes incumbents of more modest means out after a few terms to get a less-entrenched governing class? The answer to that depends largely on whether the latter turn out to be incumbents we’d like to keep around. In the end it will be a largely academic question anyway, as Congress would have to vote to establish a housing allowance for itself — and in these populist times, that will put a big target on their backs, unless it’s paired up with a pay cut. Chaffetz may or may not be offering good advice, but don’t expect anyone to take it.

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Huckabee: This health-care bill isn’t the end game Trump campaigned on or that Americans care about

15 hours 41 min ago

He’s been a loyal Trump surrogate since the primaries but watch the clip below and tell me he isn’t enjoying a little sweet revenge for these 2015 tweets.

I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2015

Huckabee is a nice guy but will never be able to bring in the funds so as not to cut Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. I will.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2015

Money quote from Huck’s interview yesterday with Fox Business:

“If the end game is to save money, then the Republicans might be on the right track. But that’s not the game Donald Trump campaigned on and it is not the endgame that Americans care most about. They want access to affordable and realistic healthcare,” he said.

The states need ways to control Medicaid’s costs, he insists, not a grand-scale rollback. Consider this a reminder that Huckabee was Trump before Trump was Trump: One of the reasons his candidacy in 2008 annoyed so many grassroots conservatives was because he was willing to accept a bigger federal government in certain respects to help his blue-collar base. He sold himself as a conservative, especially socially, but he was an ostentatiously populist one (most notably at Mitt Romney’s expense). Eight years later, Trump rode populism to the presidency but then signed off on a conservative but not-very-populist House health-care bill, confusing and disappointing even some of his friends in right-wing media. Now suddenly McConnell’s pushing another massive Medicaid rollback with a subsidies scheme that would hit older middle-class Americans — Trump’s base — especially hard financially. This clip is a message from the Ghost of Populism Past to the Ghost of Populism Present: Stop worrying about money and do what you came to Washington to do.

Trump may end up having no choice. McConnell is sounding alarms that if the caucus doesn’t come together and rubber-stamp a Republican bill, Chuck Schumer’s going to dictate terms:

McConnell has told senators for weeks that he fears a failed repeal effort would be followed by a large bailout of the insurance industry that would be supported by moderate Republicans and Democrats, per people familiar with his thinking. And McConnell would be content to not touch Obamacare repeal again if this bill failed…

If the bill fails, Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his members would be empowered to negotiate with centrist Republicans to save the flailing markets. A trio of Democratic senators met with some Republicans this spring to discuss a bipartisan proposal to shore up the nation’s health care system, but there are many elements of the GOP’s bill that those Democrats will not support.

“This seems like a bigger problem for House/Senate than for Trump,” tweets lefty Benjy Sarlin. I agree. Trump complained recently that the House bill was too “mean” and didn’t have enough “heart,” by which he meant it was too stingy. Fiscal conservatives can live with that; populists like Huckabee and statists like Schumer can’t. If the GOP bill goes down and Schumer suddenly enters the picture, the pricetag of “reforming” ObamaCare will balloon, horrifying the Rand Pauls and Ted Cruzes of the Senate but potentially making a lot of blue-collar voters happy. Why Trump doesn’t understand that or, if he does, why he refuses to act on it by demanding a bipartisan bill from McConnell is hard to grasp. I can only assume that the White House has convinced itself that the voters on the left and center who have already turned on Trump are gone for good and therefore he has no hope of reelection unless he placates the right at every opportunity. Tribalism is carrying the day here so far, on both sides, even though both the White House and the minority party would benefit from a deal.

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Venezuelan president threatens to ‘liberate the fatherland with weapons’

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 23:21

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro is under a lot of pressure. With triple-digit inflation, months of protests resulting in more than 80 dead, and demands he allow elections to resume he must be spending a great deal of time thinking about the end of his own disastrous regime. Monday Maduro spoke at a rally designed to support his illegal plan to rewrite the country’s constitution (as a way to avoid elections). The president said that if he was removed from office, his supporters would fight to “liberate the fatherland.” From the Guardian:

“If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what we failed to achieve with votes, we would do with weapons. We would liberate the fatherland with weapons.”

His comments, which were broadcast live to the country, came amid reports of one of the worst outbreaks of looting in three months of deadly protests. Some 68 businesses, including supermarkets, liquor stores, bakeries and food shops were ransacked in a wave of lawlessness that began Monday night in the city of Maracay, 100km west of Caracas, and continued well into Tuesday afternoon.

When Maduro says he and his followers would “liberate” the country with weapons, he means they would kill everyone who removed him from office. That’s something that his police and military have already gotten a start on in the past several months, with the death toll now above eighty.

As for the looting, the government is blaming the protesters, but the Associated Press reports it may not be that simple:

The pro-Maduro governor of Aragua state, of which Maracay is the capital, said the looting hit supermarkets, drug stores and small bakeries and liquor stores…

[Gov. Caryl] Bertho blamed protesters for the looting, but opposition activists say gangs of men on motorcycles looted without interference from authorities. Such groups are often government supporters.

Remember, what the protesters are demanding is elections. Regional elections should have taken place last year and the opposition filed paperwork for a legal referendum that could have removed Maduro from office but the socialists blocked it. Maduro announced his plan to rewrite the constitution as a way to claim he was open to change without allowing the socialist party to lose any power in the process. Now he’s literally threatening to murder anyone who deposes him.

It won’t be enough.

If these protests were driven solely by ideology, perhaps his plan would work, but they are driven by the government’s obvious and ongoing ineptitude. When the majority of people can no longer afford or find enough food to make three meals a day, they tend to want a change in management. One way or another, they are going to get it.

Earlier today, German news outlet Deutsche Welle published a 30-minute video on the situation in Venezuela:

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“Beyond stupid”: Pro-Trump group now running ads against … Republican senators

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:41

It’s one thing to play hardball, it another to play hardball with your own party, it’s yet something else to play hardball with your own party while they’re still trying to reach a deal among themselves on the toughest vote they’ll take all year.

They’re going for the jugular too by targeting Heller. He’s the single most vulnerable Republican senator on the ballot next fall, the lone GOPer seeking reelection in a state won by Hillary Clinton. If there’s anyone the White House should want to lay off for fear of souring local Republican voters on him, it’s him. And yet:

After a “super PAC” aligned with Mr. Trump started an ad campaign against Senator Dean Heller of Nevada when he said he opposed the bill, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, called the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to complain that the attacks were “beyond stupid,” according to two Republicans with knowledge of the tense exchange…

Josh Holmes, Mr. McConnell’s former chief of staff, said, “That the White House is asking people to take a tough vote and then running ads against members while we’re still in negotiations is so dumb it’s amazing we even have to have the conversation.”…

The move against Mr. Heller had the blessing of the White House, according to an official with America First. Mr. Trump’s allies were furious that the senator would join Gov. Brian Sandoval, who accepted the Medicaid expansion under the health law and opposes the Republican overhaul, to blast the bill.

No doubt it did have the blessing of the White House. America First Policies, the Super PAC, is crawling with former Trump and Pence advisors — Brad Parscale, Nick Ayers, Rick Gates, David Bossie, and Katrina Pierson. Despite McConnell’s complaint, they’re still full speed ahead on the ads. In fact, their radio ads are even harsher:

“…[N]ow with the leadership of President Trump, we have a real chance to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered care that protects American families and provides health care stability,” it says. “But Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is saying ‘No.’ ‘No’ to tax cuts to help small business, ‘No’ to ending Obamacare penalties, and ‘No’ to families who can’t afford to see the doctor of their choice.”

The strangest thing about targeting Heller is that, more than any other declared Republican opponent of the Senate health-care bill, he shares Trump’s concerns about ObamaCare’s replacement being too “mean” with not enough “heart.” Paul, Lee, Cruz, and Ron Johnson all object to the bill because it doesn’t do enough to roll back O-Care; Heller objects that it does too much by cutting Medicaid and too little to lower premiums. He’s closer to the populist center of gravity than conservative opponents are, yet he’s the first holdout being slapped by Trump’s de facto Super PAC. How come? Why not muscle the conservatives to accept a more populist bill than try to muscle Heller? Granted, Paul, Lee, and Johnson are all freshly reelected. But Cruz isn’t.

Something to chew on before you watch:

This from Change Research is something else…

— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) June 27, 2017

That risk is worth taking if you think the ad campaign is likely to get Heller to flip from no to yes. But if it isn’t — if it’s more likely to piss him off or, at best, not to matter to his calculations that he can’t afford to support what’s likely to be a highly unpopular bill, then why damage him for no reason? It reminds me of Trump allegedly needing to be talked out of demanding a floor vote in the House in March on Paul Ryan’s health-care bill knowing full well that the bill would fail. Forcing congressmen to cast a tough vote on the bill would only end up hurting them but Trump seemed to like the idea of causing them a little pain to pay them back for the humiliation of handing him a political defeat. (He eventually relented and no floor vote was held.) Maybe the goal here is the same, not to flip Heller but to let him know that he’s going to get punched from the right if he ends up voting no even if he doesn’t end up getting punched from the left.

Update: Actually, apologies to Mike Lee. His concerns with the bill are plenty populist too.

Update: Is the Super PAC having second thoughts?

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McEnroe: No, I’m not going to apologize to Serena Williams

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:01

Give John McEnroe credit for unintentional grandmaster trolling this week — and for sticking to his guns, advisedly or not. The former number-one men’s tennis player bluntly responded “no” when the CBS This Morning panel asked him if he wanted to apologize to Serena Williams for remarks he made during an NPR interview, in which he speculated that the current top female player would rank “around 700” on the men’s circuit. On tour to promote a new book, McEnroe pointed out that his autobiography never brings up the topic, and that he was only guilty of an honest response to an off-topic question:

"Would you like to apologize?" — @NorahODonnell
"No." — John McEnroe

— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) June 27, 2017

The hosts seemed aghast at McEnroe’s lack of remorse, although he did say that the exchange was “not necessary,” and that he’d rather talk about the book. (Even so, the panel kept at this topic for half of the segment.) A look at the NPR transcript shows that McEnroe has a point, and that Lulu Garcia-Navarro went out of her way to make a mountain out of a mundane observation:

Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.

Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?

McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?

McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.

Garcia-Navarro: You think so?

McEnroe: Yeah. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Serena is an incredible player. I do, but the reality of what would happen would be I think something that perhaps it’d be a little higher, perhaps it’d be a little lower. And on a given day, Serena could beat some players. I believe because she’s so incredibly strong mentally that she could overcome some situations where players would choke ’cause she’s been in it so many times, so many situations at Wimbledon, The U.S. Open, etc. But if she had to just play the circuit — the men’s circuit — that would be an entirely different story.

The reason McEnroe included the gender qualifier in his statement is so absurdly obvious that it beggars belief that Garcia-Navarro questioned it at all. It’s because professional tennis (and amateur tennis for that matter) separates itself into gender categories for competition. The tennis players themselves separate on gender, which makes comparisons across categories nonsensical — even if one didn’t know that men have to play more sets, for instance, which requires more endurance. McEnroe might have done better to avoid speculating on where Williams would rank on the men’s circuit — hence Williams’ complaint about his use of non-factual argument — but he’s entirely correct on the use of the qualifier.

This point didn’t have much impact on the CBS panel, however. Charlie Rose asks, “Have you never heard of Bobby Riggs?”, a reference to the Battle of the Sexes event in 1973 with Billie Jean King, but that misses the point — in two ways. First, most people forget that the 55-year-old Riggs had just beaten then-#1 women’s player Margaret Court (age 30) in straight sets four months earlier, which set the stage for the Riggs-King match. Riggs’ last professional Grand Slam win took place twenty-four years earlier, at the 1949 US Open against Don Budge. The critical quality in the match with King was age, not gender, as King shrewdly forced Riggs to wear himself out by playing a baseline game — a strategy she adopted after his win over Court.

Furthermore, the 58-year-old McEnroe never suggested that he could beat Williams — but that she would not be able to beat top-ranked current players on the men’s circuit. There’s one sure way to settle the issue that Garcia-Navarro raised, McEnroe said:

The former tennis bad boy said there may only be one solution to settle the debate.

“Why don’t you combine, just solve the problem — I’m sure the men would be all for this — the men and women play together and then we don’t have to guess,” he said.

Don’t expect the women on the pro tour to take up this offer. For those who are offended at gender categories and qualifiers, though, the issue should be taken up with the players and the tours — not with those who use their own categories for analysis.

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Reporter pops off at Sarah Huckabee Sanders over “inflammatory” fake-news accusations

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 21:31

Was some part of this exchange scripted? Jonathan Swan of Axios tweeted this curious comment this morning before the briefing:

Source close to the White House tells me today's press briefing will be "must see TV." No more info than that but assume level 10 trolling.

— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) June 27, 2017

What makes that odd is that Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s rant about the media didn’t happen at the top, when the press secretary issues a prepared statement before taking questions. It came in response to a question from Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering. Did Sanders script her rant beforehand knowing somehow that she was going to get a question about CNN’s humiliation over the Anthony Scaramucci story? Did she just assume she would? It’s worth noting that Swan has seemed in the past to have sources very close to Steve Bannon. And if there’s anyone in the West Wing (apart from the president himself) who might be apt to encourage Sanders to attack the media, it’s the guy who once called the press “the opposition party.”

Spiering asks a solid follow-up, though: If Russiagate is supposedly “fake news,” how are reporters supposed to cover meddling by a foreign power in the U.S. presidential campaign? And ironically, the “must see” part ended up not being Sanders’s ramble about the fake-news media but the exchange between her and reporter Brian Karem, who interrupted her to accuse her of demagoging the press. That wasn’t scripted, obviously. I wonder whether there was some strategic reason in choosing her to give today’s briefing instead of Spicer, especially if it’s true that her anti-media diatribe was to some extent pre-planned. Maybe the White House calculated that Spicer’s credibility in attacking the press is already shot; better to have the more likable Sanders do it and hope it gains traction. I think it fell flat, though, as there’s simply not enough righteous indignation in her delivery. If you want a press secretary who’ll go out there, crap on the press, and really own it, you’re better off with a conservative media pro like Laura Ingraham. Sanders is too low key.

Note, by the way, how she recommends everyone watch James O’Keefe’s new video of the CNN producer talking about Russiagate before adding that she can’t vouch for whether it’s accurate or not. That’s a weird thing to say in the course of lecturing the media about being sticklers for facts.

Wow. This entire exchange at the WH briefing. Must watch.

— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 27, 2017

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Will the resistance protest? Trump figure will speak at Disney’s Hall of Presidents

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 21:01

Every time a new American president is elected, the Disney company shuts down its Hall of Presidents attraction in order to add a new animatronic figure to the show. This year the resistance made sure that things weren’t business as usual. A petition was started as soon as the attraction closed to ensure that the new figure representing President Trump would not be allowed to speak.

Monday we learned that, despite partisan efforts to silence him, the president’s animatronic doppelganger will get a speaking role in the show, just like previous presidents. But according to one source who spoke to Vice, the process of installing the Trump-bot was delayed by disagreement over who would write Trump’s speech:

According to a source close to Magic Kingdom management, the Trump communications team has been combative and obstinate, upsetting an established process that three prior presidential administrations found amenable.

“When Disney tried to get this process started earlier this year,” said the source in an email to Motherboard, “Trump’s people said, ‘We’ll be writing the speech that the President’s Audio-Animatronic figure will be saying.'”

According to the source, shutting out the Disney Imagineers made the process slow and difficult, but it sounds like some inside the company also hoped they could avoid giving the president his moment:

“There are those at Imagineering who hope that if they hold off on doing anything with this attraction until the fall, Trump may have done something so egregious that the general public won’t have an issue with putting a non-talking version of [Trump] in The Hall of Presidents,” said the source.

That’s exactly like what I imagine Disney “Imagineers” to be like, i.e. progressive partisans looking for an excuse to do what they are already inclined to do. But according to Vice’s unnamed source, Disney has been able to reach an agreement with the White House and the recording of Trump’s speech will go forward.

Vice’s source says the Disney Imagineers have been trying to avoid the president, “tweeting about this situation.” They are concerned that if he does, “It would most likely result in a call for conservatives to boycott Walt Disney World.” Frankly, I think that is what would happen if the company had decided to treat Trump differently than it treated past presidents. Since that hasn’t happened, I think they are probably in the clear, at least from the right.

What the Imagineers really ought to be worried about is the inevitable backlash from the left. Having been thwarted in their attempts to silence Trump once,  it’s possible they will try again. And we’ve all seen how the left employs the heckler’s veto to shout down anyone they disagree with. Could we see protests outside the attraction? Hecklers inside the attraction? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone got up on stage during the show to berate Trump during his speech or even damage the figure. After all, many on the left embrace vandalism as a method of social change. Why should this be any different?

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Ossoff: Hey, we really stood up to the GOP machine, right?

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 20:31

What did Democrats learn from last week’s special election in Georgia? Jon Ossoff, the man backed by Democrats around the country for Tom Price’s old House seat, offers lessons to his party — or at least, that’s how the Washington Post headlined his valediction. It doesn’t take long to get to Ossoff’s central lesson, which is a study in both denial and projection:

Here in Georgia, in a district considered safe for Republicans for decades, we built a grass-roots organization powered by thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of small-dollar donors.

The right wing’s national apparatus fully mobilized to defend the status quo in Washington at any cost. I was defeated. But we put up a hell of a fight.

Grass-roots politics, linking small-dollar fundraising to massive local volunteer organization, showed that it can rival the power of a right-wing machine comprising super PACs backed by entrenched interests and mega-donors. These outside groups were forced to spend nearly $20 million defending a seat gerrymandered never to be competitive.

Ossoff made this same argument the day after the special election, claiming that his loss proved the need for campaign-finance reform. It’s nonsense on stilts, and the only reason Ossoff competed at all in this district was because of an avalanche of out-of-state funds into his coffers long before the GOP awoke to the threat. No one’s quite sure about the extent of the spending — the final reports have yet to be filed — but it’s a sure bet that it will have exceeded $50 million. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes the heavy spending by Ossoff on radio and TV, which dwarfed the efforts of Karen Handel:

The analysis shows Ossoff laid out $14.2 million on ad time and spent at least another $8 million on other costs. Handel spent $2.5 million on TV, radio and cable spots and had at least $1 million in other expenses.

Both campaigns were buoyed by a tide of outside spending in the runoff phase, though Ossoff’s record-breaking fundraising haul – he took in more than $23 million since January – meant he needed less backup.

Still, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent nearly $5 million on TV ads boosting his campaign or slamming Handel, while other left-leaning groups chipped in about $1 million more.

Republican outside groups spent a little more at roughly $9 million, but that hardly made up for the overwhelming money advantage Ossoff had. Where exactly did Ossoff raise all that money? It wasn’t in the district, or even in the state:

He reported 7,218 donations from the state of California and 808 donations from Georgia over the past two months, according to the Mercury News. Ossoff had over 3,000 donors in the San Francisco Bay area alone, nearly four times as many donors as he had in Georgia.

Overall, between March 29 and May 31, Ossoff reported $456,296.03 from California compared to $228,474.44 from Georgia. Ossoff received more than $220,000 from the Bay area alone. The Mercury News noted that the totals were only a fraction of the actual donations since he doesn’t have to report donations of less than $200.

This may have been a David-and-Goliath race, but if so, Ossoff wasn’t David. As for GA-06 being “gerrymandered,” well, here’s the map of the district (via Wikipedia Commons):

It’s hardly a “salamander” district, and its northwestern border was drawn along the Fulton-Cherokee county line. The map to the right shows that GA-06 is drawn in similar style as other Georgia districts, and doesn’t look all that atypical for suburban districts around the country. Democrats want to create a narrative that their failures are all due to gerrymandering, but this proves otherwise. GA-06 isn’t a safe Republican district because of gerrymandering; it’s safe because its voters are more Republican.

Ossoff’s claim of victimhood over campaign spending manifests chutzpah to the scale of performance art. Ossoff wouldn’t have competed at all had Democrats not had the opportunity to pour tens of millions of dollars into the district, and in the end, his loss showed that the money didn’t carry the day anyway. Ossoff lost because voters didn’t buy his centrist schtick, and that even a special-election turnout couldn’t be gamed enough by outside spending to gain a temporary win in a relatively safe Republican district.

And that points to the real lesson for Democrats, who should be asking themselves what they hoped to gain from their $30 million-or-so investment. Had Ossoff pulled out the win, they’d have had to spend a similar amount of money in 2018 to hold the seat, especially after Ossoff’s alignment with Nancy Pelosi progressives (as he made clear in his concessions speech) emerged. Rather than try to sucker voters into electing a phony centrist, perhaps they should spend a fraction of that money attempting to find actual centrists — and getting rid of the fossilized leadership that marginalizes the few successful centrists the Democrats have.

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Do we need to do away with judges who aren’t lawyers?

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 20:01

We’ll take a short break from all of the Supreme Court and health care bill news to tackle something a bit more ubiquitous in nature. Pro Publica has an article out this week which you might want to take a look at if you need something new to be upset about. It deals with judges in the state of New York and the fact that so many of them hold these important positions despite never having gone to law school or providing any proof that they are conversant with the legal system. This has, at times, resulted in a cornucopia of embarrassments, ranging from outrageous rulings which are in defiance of the actual law to malfeasance in their personal lives leading to forced resignations.

That some judges in New York state are not required to be lawyers, or to have any formal legal training, has been a little-understood fact for much of the last century. It has, on occasion, drawn some notice. In 2006, The New York Times published a broad and damning series on the work of what are known as town and village justices, some 2,000 or so of whom hold court in the state. It made for remarkable reading:

“Some of the courtrooms are not even courtrooms: tiny offices or basement rooms without a judge’s bench or jury box. Sometimes the public is not admitted, witnesses are not sworn to tell the truth, and there is no word-for-word record of the proceedings.

Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many — truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers — have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school…

The American Bar Association published a study on this subject back in 2011 in which they found that you can be a judge with essentially zero legal training in 24 states. Efforts at passing legislation to require some sort of formal training have largely fizzled because voter are, for some reason, resistant to the idea. (In New Mexico they did manage to up the qualifications to say that you have to have a high school diploma, finish eleven days of “judicial training” and have a mentor appointed to you.) And let’s keep in mind that you don’t actually have to know anything about the law to get on the Supreme Court if you can convince a president and enough senators that you’re a swell guy or gal. Above the Law published a great article on the subject a few years back.

We recently wrote an article for the Washington Post in which we debunked five myths about the Supreme Court confirmation process. One myth that we could have added to our piece: that you need prior judicial experience, or at the very least a law degree, to sit on the Court.

The Constitution does not specify any particular professional or educational requirements for serving as a justice of the high court. In fact, unlike presidents or members of Congress, Supreme Court justices do not even need to be over a certain age. In 1811, the brilliant Joseph Story was appointed to the court at the tender age of 32 — a veritable legal Doogie Howser.

Many judges in various states are elected, so the selection of who may decide your fate in court is essentially boiled down to a Vox Populi, Vox Dei situation. The New York State Supreme Court has hundreds of judges (it’s a very different structure and the United States Supreme Court) and they are all essentially selected by county political party leaders. The point of all of this is to ask the question, do we need to change this system?

Should you be able to be a judge without any formal training in the law and with nobody able to see if you know the first thing about it? Simply saying that the people will judge the credentials of the candidates and make the best choice is a rather hollow response when you read that Pro Publica piece I linked above. But if it’s that much of a potential problem, why are we so opposed to mandating some form of training and certification?

One thing which comes to my mind is an instinctive tendency to rebel against the idea that some “elite” who speaks mostly in a dead language should be the only one allowed to define not so much “legal vs illegal” as right vs wrong. We bring in totally untrained people to sit on juries – supposedly our peers from the common stock – to determine guilt and innocence. Why shouldn’t a judge be someone who is more open to “common sense” if any such thing still remains in the world? But then I look around at a number of specimens of the common stock in my own neighborhood and I’m given pause.

Another argument might be that any person wrongly convicted in the court of an unqualified judge could eventually have that overturned on appeal, presumably by someone with more and better qualifications. I suppose that’s true, but you can run into a lot of trouble in the short term when you’re sitting in the county jail just because the judge didn’t like that look on your face.

I suppose I don’t have a good answer for this one so I’ll toss it out to the crowd. Should judged be elected in the first place? And should there be a requirement for a law degree before you can appear on the ballot?

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Tuesday TEMS: Andrew Malcolm, Javier Manjarres, Jazz Shaw

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 19:31

Today on The Ed Morrissey Show (4 pm ET), we have another great lineup for the news of the day! The show will be streamed on Hot Air’s Facebook page and embedded here and on the show page for those who are not on Facebook. (If it’s muted, right-click the video and choose Unmute.) Join us as we welcome:

  • Andrew Malcolm joins us for Tuesdays with Andrew! The Prince of Twitter and I will discuss all of the hot political stories of the day. We’ll preview Andrew’s upcoming work at Hot Air, and talk about briefings and television, and much more.
  • Longtime New Media figure and fellow CPAC Blogger of the Year Javier Manjarres has announced that he may run for Congress in Florida’s 22nd Congressional district. We’ll talk about the issues, and Javier’s call for a half-dozen debates with incumbent Democrat Ted Deutch.
  • Jazz Shaw will join us to discuss the study on Seattle’s minimum-wage increase, illegal immigrants in Baltimore restaurants, and John McEnroe’s four-decade career as a top-ranked trollmaster. Don’t miss it!

The Ed Morrissey Show and its dynamic chatroom can be seen on the permanent TEMS page. Be sure to join us, and don’t forget to keep up with the debate on my Facebook page, too!

How can Republicans and conservatives keep the momentum going? Find out in GOING REDpublished in April from Crown Forum!

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State Department’s human trafficking report downgrades China to tier 3

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 19:01

The State Department released its annual report on human trafficking Tuesday. This year the report downgrades China to tier 3, the lowest rating level, in part because of China’s complicity in the use of forced labor by North Korea on its soil.

The new report was presented by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump at the State Department. Sec. Tillerson pointed out that North Korean forced labor was helping to pay for the country’s missile programs which could soon threaten the United States. “North Korea…depends on forced labor to generate illicit sources of revenue,” Tillerson said. He continued, “An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 North Koreans citizens are working overseas as forced labor, primarily in Russia and China.” The wages owed these workers are paid directly to the North Korean government, which totals millions of dollars.

“China was downgraded to Tier 3 status in this year’s report in part because it has not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking, including forced laborers from North Korea that are located in China,” Tillerson said. He called on China to send North Korean forced laborers home.

Vice news did a video report in 2011 documenting North Korean logging camps in Siberia. North Korean laborers were sent to Siberia and forced to work for 3-10 years before being allowed to return home. A Radio Free Asia report from 2015 describes North Korean workers who are sent to China and work 12-14 hour days preparing fish and shellfish. All of their wages were confiscated by the North Korean government:

Daehung, a company based in North Korea’s coastal Rason Special Economic Zone, had contracted with the Chinese firm to pay each worker 800 yuan (U.S.$126) per month along with room and board, but then promised the workers only 300 yuan (U.S.$47) of that amount, the source said.

Now, even that reduced amount is not being paid, he said.

“They have no salary at all,” he said.

“They work for 12 to 14 hours a day and are allowed only day off each month, but they can travel back to North Korea by bus on their days off.”

The Trump administration has been clear that it wants China to act more forcefully to control North Korea’s behavior. Cutting off slave labor which serves as a major source of funding for the regime would certainly help to do that, though the report itself doesn’t focus on U.S. political goals. The report cites additional reasons for China’s downgrade:

Human rights organizations and media continued to report local officials in Xinjiang coerced Uighur men and women to participate in forced labor in and outside the province, despite the local government issuing a notice in early 2017 the practice had been completely abolished. The government convicted fewer sex and labor traffickers compared to the previous reporting period. Authorities continued to forcibly repatriate North Koreans, where they faced severe punishment including forced labor and execution, without screening them for indicators of trafficking.

Here is Sec. Tillerson’s speech introducing the report. He is followed by presidential adviser Ivanka Trump who made a brief speech about this year’s report:

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No vote this week: Trump invites all GOP senators to the White House this afternoon to discuss health-care bill

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 18:31

So that mini-revolt over today’s motion to proceed wasn’t just for show, huh.

Big: Senate Republicans won't vote on the health care bill this week at all, a Senate GOP source tells @TheIJR

— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) June 27, 2017

Next stop: The White House.

NEWS!!! Trump is inviting all GOP senators to the White House today for a meeting at 4 p.m.

— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) June 27, 2017

It’s hard to have a policy discussion with 100 people and policy isn’t, ah, Trump’s main area of interest anyway, so I assume this is mostly about putting the fear of God into wary Republicans. Point one: If this bill goes down, McConnell will have no choice but to approach Schumer and negotiate an ObamaCare rescue plan before the exchanges collapse. Point two: If the GOP fails to undo ObamaCare, conservative voters will never trust them again and the midterms will be a wipeout. Never mind that both of those points contradict Trump’s oft-stated assertion that if Republicans just sit back and let O-Care fail, Democrats will bear the brunt of public ire. That was never as true as he made it out to be, and the further along the road the GOP gets towards its own bill, the less true it becomes. When you have total control of government, you’re expected to fix the country’s problems. No matter who was responsible for creating them.

For that reason, I don’t buy the theory that McConnell secretly wants the bill to tank. But I admit, this gives me pause:

Susan Collins, who will vote no on motion to proceed, says there's been "no outreach" from McConnell on health care bill.

— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) June 27, 2017

Why not? There are more moderates who have problems with the current bill (Collins, Murkowski, Portman, Heller, Capito) than there are conservatives (Paul, Lee, Cruz, Johnson). The more you appease the latter, the more you risk alienating the former. The only way it makes sense for McConnell to do that is if he’s convinced the bill is going down and wants the base to feel that their concerns, at least, were met in the final draft before it tanked. Then they can blame Collins et al. for the bill’s failure; meanwhile, Collins and the moderates will be perfectly happy to negotiate with Schumer and the Democrats on an O-Care salvage bill once TrumpCare is finally dead. If he’s got to pander to one side or the other knowing (or strongly suspecting) that this is a lost cause, McConnell’s smart to pander to the caucus’s right wing.

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EU slaps Google with massive fine for “anti-competitive behavior”

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 18:01

File this one under, “those socialists really never quit.”

The EU has decided that they don’t like the way that Google provides their absolutely free, no-cost-to-you web browsing service because it exhibits “anti-competitive behavior” when you’re shopping for something online. They’ve been conducting an investigation since 2008 checking out billions of search results (yeah… I just bet they have, but I’ll stop acting like a twelve year old now) and determined that the horrible search service has the audacity to promote the products of their own advertisers in a preferential fashion when search results are displayed. Can you imagine the nerve? And in response, they’ve dropped a nearly 2.5 billion euro fine on them. (Associated Press)

The European Union slapped a record 2.42 billion-euro ($2.72 billion) fine on internet giant Google on Tuesday for taking advantage of its dominance in online searches to direct customers to its own online shopping business.

European regulators gave the company based in Mountain View, California, 90 days to stop or face more fines of up to 5 percent of the average daily worldwide revenue of parent company Alphabet.

Google says it is considering an appeal.

The European Commission, which polices EU competition rules, alleges Google elevates its shopping service even when other options might have better deals.

The Commission said Google “gave prominent placement in its search results only to its own comparison shopping service, whilst demoting rival services. It stifled competition on the merits in comparison shopping markets.”

I’m sorry, but precisely what law is being broken here? Google’s web browser is not only free to use, but nobody is making you use it. You’re welcome to go use Bing or any of the other similar search engines still out there. (Just as a side note, did you know that Dogpile is still out there and running?) The way Google makes their money on searches is from advertising. Obviously they will try to display their advertisers’ wares prominently. If you don’t know that then you probably shouldn’t be using a computer without supervision. They push advertising to me all the time based on everything from my search history to the contents of my Gmail letters. I’m not saying I’m wild about it, but they provide all of these services to me for free and it’s something I’m willing to put up with in return.

Also, it’s not as if the shopper can’t find other results easily. Just as an experiment I did a search on chainsaws. (Because who can’t use another chainsaw?) On the first page of results using only the word “chainsaws” I saw links for Home Depot, Stihl, Husqvarna, ECHO, Lowes, Sears, Tractor Supply and Amazon. Thinking of other outlets, I began wondering what I would need to do to get results from a different store I like who doesn’t have such favorable placement with Google, such as True Value. So I did another search for “Chainsaws True Value.” Guess what? It was the first result.

But even beyond that, this isn’t a question of whether or not Google is “exhibiting anti-competitive behavior” here. What obligation do they have to be competitive in the first place? You choose to use their free search engine (did I mention that it’s free?) and you structure the search that you put in. If you don’t see what you want on the first page you can click through a thousand more pages or refine your search criteria. This is such complete nonsense that it’s staggering to anyone who grew up in a competitive, capitalist system.

I know plenty of people have issues with some of Google’s policies, accusations of bias and whatnot, but this is another matter entirely. The socialist EU is trying to levy crippling fines on an American company for failing to do something they are under no obligation to do. Google should refuse to pay and invite the EU to block their domains in Europe. Then they can answer to their own citizens when they can’t get to their Gmail accounts anymore.

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