2019-09-24 19:30:08

Does it matter whether President Donald Trump actually supports criminal justice reform as long as he signs the relevant bills into law?

That’s the focus of an insidery Politico piece by Gabby Orr and Daniel Lippman, which features anonymous people connected to Trump saying that the president thinks the important reforms of the FIRST STEP Act are a “dud” because it doesn’t motivate his voters and the Democrats want credit for the bill.

The FIRST STEP Act was a bipartisan affair, signed into law by Trump, but hammered out by reform-minded members of Congress and pushed by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and celebrity Kim Kardashian. The FIRST STEP Act reduced some federal mandatory minimum sentences, including some retroactively, and increased the amount of “good time” credits inmates can earn to get out of prison earlier (the federal prison system does not offer parole).

The law has benefited thousands of federal prisoners, according to stats released in July by the Department of Justice. Trump has made note of the FIRST STEP Act in some speeches. But according to Politico, he doesn’t actually care that much about it and is not happy that he might not benefit politically from its passage, while Democrats might. As Politico notes:

Kushner, whose own father spent more than a year in federal prison, worked closely with Democratic and Republican senators to get the criminal justice reform bill over the finish line last year—often telling his tough-on-crime boss it was worth expending political capital to seize a rare opportunity to overcome the deeply partisan divide on Capitol Hill and solidify his image as a pragmatic dealmaker.

But now, Trump “is telling people he’s mad” at how criminal justice reform has panned out, according to a person close to the president. “He’s really mad that he did it. He’s saying that he’s furious at Jared because Jared is telling him he’s going to get all these votes of all these felons.”

Color me less than outraged. Trump is only saying the kind of thing out loud that other politicians would have the good sense to keep to themselves, even though their motivations would not be that different. Trump is an openly transactional politician—he wants to benefit in some way from his political decisions. Certainly, the members of Congress who actually hammered out the FIRST STEP Act are also hoping to get credit from voters when re-election time comes around. And Democratic challengers to Trump are wheeling out their own criminal justice reform packages in the hopes of winning over voters.

CNN pundit and criminal justice reform activist Van Jones sees these anonymous whispers as coming from folks in Trump’s orbit who never supported the FIRST STEP Act in the first place and are happy to put out the message that these types of bills are not in Trump’s interest. Here’s what he told Politico:

“There’s always been a bunch of people in the building, they didn’t like it before, during or after, and they’ve always been able to leak out anonymous bullshit quotes that then very quickly have egg on their faces because Trump does something else positive in this direction of throws in another line in a speech,” said Jones, who confirmed that Trump has been frustrated with the lack of credit he’s received.

It may be true that Trump is unhappy that his signing of the FIRST STEP Act doesn’t give him political ownership of criminal justice reform, and it may well mean that we’ll see no more such reforms under Trump. But the FIRST STEP Act did, in fact, get signed, and it has made life better for thousands. That’s what matters. Let’s not clutch our collective pearls that a president’s support for a law is significantly influenced by the political advantages he hopes to gain from signing it.

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A San Francisco Superior Court judge has tentatively sided with tech company Salesforce in a civil lawsuit brought by 90 women who claim they were sexually exploited. The suit is the first of its kind since last year’s passage of a federal law called FOSTA, which widened punishments for web companies that promote or facilitate prostitution.

The case highlights both the limits of FOSTA and the importance of another federal law—known as Section 230—that is currently under siege from both left and right.

As a large business-to-business software company, Salesforce counted Backpage among its clients. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Salesforce allege that Backpage—a classified-advertising platform popular with sex workers—enabled them to be trafficked for sex.

But Backpage was seized by the U.S. government last year, making it a moot point for purposes of seeking civil court damages. And, hence, lawyers got to work targeting Salesforce.

They should have known better. With respect for the plight of victim-plaintiffs in this suit, their lawyers have led them astray, big time, while marking a new low in attempts to assign legal liability to internet companies for their users’ actions and words.

See, this lawsuit—as with many similar cases before it—hinges on Section 230 of federal communication law, which specifically shields internet companies from being treated as legally one with every user. And under a large body of legal precedent, Salesforce would be unequivocally shielded by Section 230 in this case.

Section 230 does not apply where federal criminal prosecutions are concerned. And it doesn’t apply when websites and tech companies are directly implicated in crimes themselves. But this isn’t a criminal prosecution, and no one is claiming that Salesforce directly participated in illegal activity, conspired with Backpage users who committed sex trafficking, or had direct knowledge of any specific crimes that may have occurred. Salesforce simply provided software to Backpage. And other courts have repeatedly said that Section 230 shielded Backpage from legal liability in similar circumstances.

Yet FOSTA, signed into law last April, poked a hole in Section 230. It created an exception to its protection for digital actors where allegations of forced or underage prostitution (i.e. sex trafficking) are concerned.

FOSTA was “enacted to ensure that courts would no longer rule that claims like Jane Does’ were barred by Section 230,” argue the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Salesforce suit.

They’re half right. The trouble is that these Jane Does’ claims are based on alleged violations by Salesforce of California state law. And FOSTA does not actually apply to private civil lawsuits based on alleged violations of state law.

Under FOSTA, Congress carved out a Section-230 exception for three kinds of actions: 1) state criminal cases, 2) civil enforcement actions brought by state attorneys general, and 3) private civil lawsuits alleging a federal cause of action. None of these three exceptions applies in the suit against Salesforce.

“Even apart from Section 230, Plaintiffs have not pled any viable claim against Salesforce,” the company’s lawyers argued to the court—and they are probably right. However, due to Section 230, this point is likely already moot.

Section 230 bars the claims in this case, Judge Ethan P. Schulman said in his tentative ruling.

None of this is too terribly heartening; after all, the damage was done by FOSTA’s very passage, which seems to have frightened many online actors into more censorship and driven sex-related industries further underground. But at least this preliminary ruling shows there may be some limits to the ludicrous actions that will be permitted under FOSTA’s name.

In any event, the plaintiffs may still contest the tentative ruling, and their lawyers told Bloomberg that they plan to do so. In that case, Judge Schulman will be forced to go ahead with oral arguments. But even so, a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor seems unlikely based on the plain facts of the case.

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2019-09-24 18:45:35

If President Donald Trump’s tariffs were supposed to resurrect American steelmakers, there is no doubt they have failed to accomplish that goal.

This week’s bad news comes from Rothbury, Michigan, where the Barber Steel Foundry will close at the end of the year, leaving 61 people unemployed. A spokesman for the company, which is owned by the Pennsylvania-based Wabtec Corporation, told Michigan Live that the closure is due to “declining business conditions.”

It’s the latest in a long run of bad news for U.S. steelmakers. In July, NLMK Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of a Russian-owned steel company, announced that it would layoff 80 workers amid slowing production. Plant president Bob Miller said the plant’s inability to win exemptions from tariffs were to blame for the lost jobs.

That followed the June 19 announcement by U.S. Steel that it would shut down two blast furnaces at its flagship plant in Gary, Indiana. The company has also laid off workers and slowed production at a plant in Michigan.

If the problems were contained to layoffs at a few steel mills, they could be explained away by other factors—or written off as mere anecdotes. But as you zoom out from those small-scale problems to look at the industry as a whole, it becomes even more obvious that there is no steel resurrection taking place, despite what Trump has promised would happen.

That’s…not happening.

Domestic steel prices spiked in the months after Trump imposed his tariffs on imported steel, but the higher prices (and larger issues, including the uncertainty created by Trump’s trade war) slackened demand for steel and prices have now fallen below pre-tariff levels. Lower prices have translated into less revenue for steelmakers, and the jolt once provided by the tariffs is now gone. The three biggest U.S. steelmakers—Nucor, Steel Dynamics, and U.S. Steel—are all expected to fall short of their third quarter projections.

U.S. Steel seems to be in particularly bad shape. In a warning to shareholders issued last week, the Pittsburgh-based company said it expects to lose 35 cents per share during the third quarter, after previously projecting losses of just 6 cents per share. Since the steel tariffs took effect in March 2018, U.S. Steel’s stock has fallen by a whopping 75 percent—from a high of $45 in the days after the steel tariffs were announced to a value of just $10.50 per share on Tuesday morning. Nucor stock is down about 25 percent since March 2018, while Steel Dynamics has seen a 30 percent drop.

As Clark Packard, a trade policy expert with the R Street Institute, a free market think tank, said in June: “Tariffs are a really ineffective tool to revitalize a domestic industry.”

Indeed, it’s not only steel that’s taken a hit when it was supposed to be getting saved. Trump’s tariffs on imported aluminum created an estimated 300 jobs during 2018 at a cost of $690 million. Two solar panel manufacturers that successfully pushed for new tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels last year are now bankrupt and out of business. And when Whirlpool lobbied the administration to tax imported washing machines, consumers wound up having to pay $1.2 billion more—and higher prices have reduced demand, punishing Whirlpool as well.

The jobs that have been created by Trump’s tariffs have come at a heavy cost. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a pro-trade think tank, U.S. consumers and businesses paid about $900,000 for every steel job created or saved by Trump’s tariffs.

It is well past time to stop believing that tariffs are going to resurrect or save the American steel industry. Trump has given little more than false hope and faulty economics to the steelworkers and other blue collar employees for whom he’s promised a return to the good old days. The slow decline of American steelmaking cannot be halted or reversed by executive order or presidential tweet.

Unfortunately, most of the Democrats running to unseat Trump in 2020 are promising the same sort of protectionism. The beatings, it seems, will have to continue until morale improves.

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Footage of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is essentially nowhere to be found on the globally popular social media app TikTok. Instead, protesters are getting the word out on Twitter and Facebook. With roughly 1 billion global users, what could explain TikTok’s Hong Kong blackout?

While it might be that TikTok’s core demographic is teens and young adults, or that the app’s most popular content categories are viral video clips of lip-syncing and physical stunts, the more likely explanation is that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company which has historically tried to curry favor with the Communist Party of China (CCP).

Many of TikTok’s users are unaware of its Chinese roots. The app is owned by ByteDance, which also owns Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. Douyin, like all other social media companies in mainland China, must comply with the “Great Firewall,” which blocks any political content that the CCP finds objectionable. Political dissent is banned, though social media users tend to find shortlived ways to circumvent the firewall: Tiananmen Square is famously referred to as “May 35th,” since references to the actual date of the massacre—June 4—are scrubbed from social media by the CCP’s censors.

The Washington Post reports that “It’s impossible to know what videos are censored on TikTok: ByteDance’s decisions about the content it surfaces or censors are largely opaque,” but that “popular hashtags used by Hong Kong protesters that have spread widely across other social media barely exist on TikTok.”

“The #antielab hashtag, a central organizing post named for protesters’ resistance to an extradition bill seen as weakening Hong Kong sovereignty, has more than 34,000 posts on Instagram but only 11 posts on TikTok, totaling about 3,000 views. The hashtags for #HongKongProtests and #HongKongProtestors, some of the biggest rallying points on Twitter, return either a single video or an error message: ‘Couldn’t find this hashtag: Check out trending videos.’ The #HongKongProtest hashtag showed six videos, totaling about 5,000 views.”

Other youth-dominated visual mediums, like Instagram, are rich with Hong Kong content. The #HongKong hashtag returns 33.3 million posts on Instagram; #HongKongProtest turns up nearly 43,000 posts, and #HongKongAirport, where many of the protests have taken place, turns up more than 97,000 posts. Part of the reason TikTok might not be used to spread Hong Kong protest content might be due to low interest among the app’s predominately teen users. Or it might be the case that many Americans simply aren’t interested in Hongkongers’ ongoing fight for democracy.

But it’s not as if TikTok and Douyin are devoid of other types of political content. Douyin is used semi-cryptically by Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang province to communicate with the rest of China that they have missing, dead, or separated relatives. This month, Nevada high schoolers used TikTok to organize a strike in solidarity with their teachers to get them better pay and working conditions. TikTok users have also used clips of art and body makeup to spread awareness of climate change, in addition to streaming coverage of climate-related protests (the #climatechange hashtag has nearly 30 million views and an endless stream of posts).

In the past, ByteDance has showed a strong degree of deference to the CCP. The Post notes:

“ByteDance last year was forced to dismantle its popular comedy app Neihan Duanzi (roughly translated, ‘implied jokes’) following a government purge, during which Chinese regulators said the app’s ‘vulgar and improper content’ had violated social morals and ’caused strong disgust.’

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming, one of China’s richest men, issued a public, self-effacing apology for content he called ‘in deviation of socialist core values’ and pledged the company would work to ensure party ‘voices are broadcast to strength.'”

In a statement, ByteDance said that the content moderation team for TikTok is based in the U.S. and held to wholly different standards than Douyin. And in terms of content, images that have caused a stir on Douyin (such as a cartoon pig named Peppa Pig, which Chinese state-owned media claim is antithetical to Party values) are allowed on TikTok.

Still, a video-centric app would seemingly be a natural fit for those who want to spread footage of the Hong Kong protests, which are now in their 16th week.

The protests, which were sparked by a proposed extradition treaty that would have allowed suspected criminals to be extradited from Hong Kong to Taiwan and mainland China, has turned into a larger demonstration against China’s power creep. Since 1997, Hong Kong and China have used the “one country, two systems” policy, under which Hongkongers are allowed significant political freedoms. Hong Kong could lose these freedoms and be fully absorbed by China in 2047, when the policy agreement is set to expire. Proposals like the extradition treaty have many Hongkongers worried that China is speeding up the timeline and attempting to prematurely winnow away at their freedoms.

More Reason coverage of Hong Kong protests—in video form—here.

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2019-09-24 17:58:59

The Democrats’ latest drive to impeachment rests on a single, relatively straightforward accusation: that in a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, President Donald Trump improperly urged the foreign leader to investigate Trump’s domestic political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden’s family—perhaps holding up foreign aid in an attempt to pressure a foreign government into creating a scandal in hopes of gaining a political advantage in advance of the 2020 election.

It increasingly appears that this allegation is true. 

For starters, we know that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, pressured Ukraine to investigate the Biden family, because Guiliani—shortly after denying the charge—admitted to doing so on national television.  

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported that in the July call, Trump himself pressured the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Biden family’s dealings in the country, raising the issue eight separate times. 

Over the weekend, Trump appeared to admit he had raised the issue, linking the conversation, which he says was about “corruption,” to Biden and his son, saying, “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”

Trump further insisted that “there was no quid pro quo, there was nothing.” But this morning, The Washington Post reported that nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine had been withheld just days before the call occurred. Trump had personally ordered his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold up the funds. 

This, in turn, raises two questions: Why would Trump put a hold on the funds? And did he have the authority to do so? 

The money had been authorized by Congress earlier in the year, and under the Constitution, Congress has the sole power of the purse. This is why the Obama administration’s decision to spend Obamacare funds that Congress had not authorized was illegal. A president can neither spend unauthorized funds, nor decline to spend funds that Congress has authorized. 

Yet Trump not only paused the payments, but he gave no clear reason why, instructing administration officials “to tell lawmakers that the delays were part of an ‘interagency process’ but to give them no additional information,” according to the Post. The payments weren’t made until mid-September. 

So Trump personally pressured a foreign government to work with his personal lawyer to gin up what he hoped would be a politically beneficial scandal. Simply making that request, with no strings attached, would be inappropriate. But shortly before that, he personally held up federal funds that were set to go to that country—possibly in violation of the Constitution—and told his subordinates not to explain why. 

Zelensky, however, appears to have understood the reason. Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) said this week that in an early September conversation, Zelensky expressed direct concerns that “the aid that was being cut off to Ukraine by the president was a consequence” of his refusal to investigate the Bidens. 

One might be skeptical of Murphy’s story. He is, after all, a Democratic senator. But I am inclined to believe him, for two reasons. First, if it were not true, Zelensky could publicly dispute it. And second, it’s simply not surprising that Zelensky would understand the funding delay to be tied to Trump’s request for an investigation into the Bidens; when the president of the United States calls a foreign leader and asks for a personal favor at precisely the same time that funding for that leader’s country has been put on hold, the obvious conclusion would be that the two events are linked.  

So no, there may not have been an explicit quid pro quo. Trump may not have expressly said the disbursement of the funds was conditioned on the launch of a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens. But even if there was no explicit threat, there was still presidential pressure coming at a time when money was on the line—and when Trump had personally delayed the funds.

This paints a disturbing picture. It very much looks like Trump used the power of his office—the most powerful political office in the country and the world—in an attempt to boost his personal political fortunes. The evidence so far, in other words, suggests that Trump did the thing he is being accused of doing, or something very much like it. 

There may still be more we don’t know. The whistleblower complaint that launched this story has not yet been made public, and it appears to have been based on indirect information rather than firsthand knowledge. Trump has said that the transcript of the call would show no quid pro quo; we have not yet seen the transcript. It would be useful to have all of this information on the record. 

But we already know enough to draw some tentative conclusions. And presuming the events unfolded roughly as has been reported so far, then Trump has done something that no president should do. 

Indeed, if the reports are accurate, he attempted to do something that he spent the last three years insisting he didn’t do in 2016—work directly (one might even say “collude”) with a foreign government to influence an American election to his own benefit. And he did it from the perch of elected office. This was, by all indications, an abuse of presidential power for personal gain. 

Whether this constitutes an impeachable offense is a question that House Democrats will now have to decide. It is worth remembering, however, that impeachment is not necessarily a conclusion; it is a process, the vehicle set forth by the Constitution for determining whether a president has committed acts that might justify removal from office. And those acts do not necessarily have to be criminal in nature. As Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich) tweeted earlier this year in a thread making the case that the Mueller report justified action, “Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.” Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News legal analyst who has sometimes tangled with Trump, recently made the case that Trump’s attempts to influence Ukraine constitute an “act of corruption” worse than anything uncovered during the Mueller investigation. 

Impeachment proceedings would almost certainly drown out discussion of other issues. There is a risk impeachment could backfire politically, which is probably why Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) has resisted it so far. Democrats, many of whom have been itching to impeach since Trump took office, run a real risk of looking like they have merely latched onto the latest controversy in order to justify a partisan action they already wanted to pursue. And should the process result in an impeachment trial, it would be held on Trump-friendly turf, in the GOP-controlled Senate. It’s hard to imagine that the final result would be his removal. 

All of which is to say that the question of impeachment is, unavoidably, a political question, and it will be resolved by political actors based on political considerations. But the question of what Trump did, and whether it was appropriate, is one that we can answer with reasonable confidence. And the answer does not make Trump look good. 

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Is schoolenfreude a word? If so, a Wall Street Journal article from Saturday produced buckets of the stuff.

Seems an area man who helped design the devilishly complicated algorithm that determines the middle school designations for New York City public school kids, and who also supported the trailblazing (and controversial) diversity plan in Brooklyn’s mediagenic District 15, found himself on the losing end this spring when his incoming middle school daughter was assigned to just her 10th-ranked choice of government-run school. So what did Neil Dorosin and family do?

They chose a charter school closer to home. And I do not blame them, not one little bit.

The school his daughter was assigned to, Sunset Park Prep, features comparatively poorer students (a majority of them, unlike Dorosin, are nonwhite) achieving comparatively decent test results, so that was attractive enough to include on her school rankings (as it was for my daughter, who is in the same school district and age group). But: “He worried about the travel distance. He said his daughter cared that none of her friends were going to Sunset Park Prep, some were going to the charter, and she found the charter’s building more appealing.”

As Matthew Ladner wrote in an unrelated piece about New York charter schools yesterday, “We should celebrate anytime any family finds a good fit school for their children. They paid their taxes after all; if they are happy, then so am I.” Indeed. And there is no ammunition for a charge of hypocrisy here, either, as Dorosin does not to my knowledge share Mayor Bill de Blasio’s unreasonable hostility to charters.

But the initial experiences of parents on the vanguard of District 15’s experiment with “controlled choice”—as in, families choose their ranked preferences, then the school system chooses their assignment based on a mixture of lottery and demographic leveling—suggest that more people than before are choosing exit rather than compliance.

Dorosin’s Brooklyn Urban Garden School (BUGS), one of five privately-run charters in a district that has 11 Department of Education-operated middle schools, “had a surge of interest in the past year,” the Journal reported:

Its officials said 502 children living in District 15 entered the charter’s lottery for sixth-grade for this fall, up from 315 the previous year, before the district’s new admissions method. Now 77 of its sixth-graders come from the district, up from 37 before.

That’s an eye-popping increase. We don’t yet know the full enrollment picture for this fall, but a previous Journal article from the summer reported that the number of incoming sixth graders appealing their designations jumped from 350 to 450 (or from around 13 percent of the incoming class of middle schoolers to 17 percent), while the number of appeals granted plummeted from 59 to 14. As I noted in this Twitter thread at the time:

At just one middle school, the long-maligned Charles O. Dewey (I.S. 136) in the same Sunset Park neighborhood as Dorosin’s assigned school, appeals went up from 22 to 50. A disproportionate number of my daughter’s classmates at her comparatively affluent and successful elementary school were assigned faraway I.S. 136 despite not even including it in their rankings. (You can select up to 12 publicly run schools; charters are handled separately.) I have yet to hear of a single one of those families accepting their assignment.

Meanwhile, we know of at least three parents of District 15 elementary public schoolers who have either moved or are in the process of moving away from this area altogether as a direct result of their middle school placements. Have I mentioned that my elementary school subdistrict may soon be changing to controlled choice?

As it happens, just today—the same day as a crucial public meeting about the fate of my youngest daughter’s elementary school—the Cato Institute has published a new policy paper about controlled choice, by George Mason University education professor emeritus David J. Armor. Keep in mind that this particular policy approach toward integrating schools, which is the successor of the racial-integration busing policies of the 1970s, is preferred not just by my district, but by New York City’s whole Department of Education, and pretty much the whole school-diversification establishment.

So what does Armor conclude?

In larger school districts, controlled-choice plans can generate controversy and middle-class flight among parents who prefer neighborhood schools, similar to the “white flight” observed in earlier decades when mandatory busing was used to attain racially balanced schools.

A review of controlled-choice plans in six large districts in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida shows considerable and ongoing higher-income and white losses in these districts. While other demographic forces cannot be ruled out (e.g., urban to suburban movement for reasons unrelated to schools), neither can the unpopularity of controlled choice. More important, none of these districts has demonstrated significant closing of achievement gaps between higher- and lower-income students, one of the main justifications for these plans.

For larger school districts…it is clear from the cases reviewed here that controlled choice for economic integration is not working as intended. It is still controversial, and it may be contributing to growing racial and economic isolation among some larger school districts. Most importantly, this policy has not been successful at achieving one of its major goals: closing achievement gaps.


As I have said whenever asked, I don’t know if my school district’s new system will be good or bad, and I’m happy that some populations that previously did not even think to apply to some of the highest-reputation middle schools got admitted this year. Choice is a wonderful thing, and poorer families especially should have more of it.

But the lure of control is ever-present. Two weeks after a Democratic presidential debate spat between Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) and former Vice President Joe Biden made school busing national news again, New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote a deeply knowledgeable and interpretatively questionable cover story with the provocative headline, “It Was Never About Busing: Court-ordered desegregation worked. But white racism made it hard to accept.”

I can testify that Hannah-Jones’ conclusion resonates with many of the people driving diversity-conscious admissions changes to schools in New York and elsewhere: “Busing did not fail. We did.”

Parents who balk at accepting the results of the new busing will be branded as racist, one of the gravest accusations one can level at another human being in modern society. As one woman just emailed me while I was finishing this post:

For schools to become integrated and, more importantly, equalized, it means that some kids will suffer. Those kids are likely to be those who already have an enormous amount of social capital, if not downright wealth. They will survive. If their parents choose to send them to private school instead, let it be on their conscience about how they are supporting a racist and classist system and how they are, indeed, racists.

All parents, Neil Dorosin included, are going to do what they think is best for their kids. If the school they are assigned to is objectionable on grounds of distance, or test scores, or curriculum, or cleanliness, or safety, or leadership, they will look for ways to opt out. And if in the process they are treated like privilege-hoarding accomplices to a system of white supremacy, then that noise you will hear is the slamming of doors behind them.

“The whole process [has] left us so traumatized and frankly angry that I can’t see myself going through it again for our younger daughter,” one District 15 parent of a sixth grader emailed me last week. “And, we look forward with terror at the high school admissions and the real possibility that the same forces will be at play by the time we’re up. It’s become [such] a toxic subject of our lives that I really can’t live with anymore. So, [the] end result is that we have decided to leave Brooklyn altogether.”

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2019-09-24 16:30:16

The last week has seen two grim additions to the panoply of civilian suffering in Afghanistan’s decades of war. First, a U.S. drone strike intended to take out forces of the Islamic State instead killed 30 pine nut farmers. Another 40 civilians were injured in the attack in Nangarhar province, where the farmers were resting after a long day of work.

Four days later, across the country in Helmand province, 40 innocents were killed and 18 wounded in a mistargeted attack by U.S.-supported Afghan special forces. The target was a Taliban hideout house, but most of the dead were women and children, local authorities reported, who were assembled for a wedding ceremony.

By the time this article is published, these 70 deaths won’t even be the most recent additions to Afghanistan’s spiking civilian casualty count for 2019, which by July had nearly caught up with the tally for all of 2018. Still, they illustrate an uncomfortable but increasingly inescapable reality: After 18 years of U.S. military intervention, Afghanistan is not growing more peaceful. Washington’s meddling has utterly failed to end the country’s civil war, which is not relevant to American security and predates U.S. involvement—if anything, as these two tragedies show, it’s making matters worse for a population that has endured too much. It is long past time to abandon the pretense that military intervention has any plausible path to any metric of success. It is long past time for U.S. troops to come home.

There is a common assumption in Washington that the war in Afghanistan needs only a few tactical tweaks to succeed. Maybe you fiddle with the troop numbers a bit—If 15,000 isn’t working, how about 100,000? If not 100,000, what about 15,000?—or get a new mission commander…18 times. Maybe you do more drone strikes, or fewer, or conduct them under more permissive rules of engagement. Maybe you focus on nation building, counterinsurgency, or “train, advise, and assist.” Maybe you give the “mother of all bombs” a try.

But none of it succeeds, nor will it. “We are not losing [in Afghanistan] because of tactics or troop numbers but because of a catastrophic failure to define realistic war goals,” Jarrett Blanc, formerly the United States’ principal deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, argues at The Washington Post. “After a messy but basically successful counterterrorism effort, we expanded our objectives in ways that were bound to fail. We mortgaged our counterterrorism objectives to more maximalist aims, making our original ambition harder to secure.”

Obstinately maintaining those maximalist aims in the face of all evidence and basic prudence will not magically summon a different result than the present painful mix of stagnation and chaos. Tactical tweaks cannot fix a fundamentally, strategically flawed exercise in remaking a foreign society by force. Furthermore, as Blanc notes, “U.S. security requirements and national interests cannot begin to justify the human, strategic, and financial costs of a continued, large-scale U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.” Withdrawal is overdue.

The common objection is a sort of “you broke it, you bought it” argument: American intervention is responsible for the state of Afghanistan today, so we must stay until Washington’s various objectives—terrorism suppressed, stable governance achieved, women’s rights protected, and so on—are accomplished. It would be reckless and unfair, so the thinking goes, to leave Afghanistan as we see it now.

The trouble with that approach—other than the fact that Afghanistan has been in a civil war for 40 years—is its demonstrably false assumption that any of these admirable goals can be achieved by U.S. military intervention. The reality is they cannot, as nearly two decades of fighting has more than shown. Try as it might, Washington cannot bomb Afghanistan into Western-style democracy. Nor can it end Afghanistan’s civil war.

This is where a word of caution is needed regarding the U.S.-Taliban and intra-Afghan negotiations now underway. Afghanistan’s troubles are ultimately political, and in that sense diplomacy—particularly among various Afghan parties—is invaluable. But predicating American exit on the realization of a comprehensive deal with the Taliban and Kabul guarantees that exit will never come. Though negotiations should certainly continue, ending America’s role in this fight must be Washington’s priority.

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Appearing like some child messiah in a science fiction novel, the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has just delivered what is arguably the fiercest jeremiad in America since Jonathan Edwards uncorked “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in 1741. Speaking at the United Nations, Thunberg, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and started protesting climate change in 2017 by staying out of school on Fridays, told the audience that it was responsible for destroying her life and that of the planet.

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

Thunberg—and other doomsayers—are wrong about the environment and how best to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. You can watch her speech below:

To say that reactions to Thunberg are as extreme as her rhetoric is an understatement. When I tweeted about her remarks earlier today, my timeline quickly filled with replies such as “Hitler also liked using pigtailed propaganda girls” and “She is a prop and a tool for eco-communism. A propaganda icon that needs to be destroyed.” Of course, President Trump weighed in, posting a clip of her speech and commenting sarcastically, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”

But despite the volume and vitriol of the attacks directed her way, it’s vitally important that the worldview she represents and the policies she espouses are refuted. Like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), and a host of other American politicians, Thunberg believes that we’ve only got a few years left to settle the fate of the planet, a basic tenet pushed by supporters of the Green New Deal and by most of the Democrats running for president. In fact, Thunberg thinks that “cutting our emissions in half in 10 years,” the target invoked by many environmentalists, is too little, too late. She avers that such a drastic reduction only

gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us—we who have to live with the consequences.

Such catastrophic thinking is similar to AOC’s equally apocalyptic statement that “The world is gonna end in 12 years” and Warren’s contention that “we’ve got, what, 11 years, maybe” to cut our emissions in half to save the planet. As Reason‘s Ronald Bailey has documented, such predictions stem from a fundamental misreading of a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That report offered up predictions in the growth of global economic activity, how it might be affected by climate change, and how reducing greenhouse gases might increase planetary GDP. It did not specify anything like a 10- to 12-year window after which extinction or amelioration is inevitable. Writes Bailey:

If humanity does nothing whatsoever to abate greenhouse gas emissions, the worst-case scenario is that global GDP in 2100 would be 8.2 percent lower than it would otherwise be.

Let’s make those GDP percentages concrete. Assuming no climate change and an global real growth rate of 3 percent per year for the next 81 years, today’s $80 trillion economy would grow to just under $880 trillion by 2100. World population is likely to peak at around 9 billion, so divvying up that GDP suggests that global average income would come to about $98,000 per person. Under the worst-case scenario, global GDP would only be $810 trillion and average income would only be $90,000 per person.

“There is no looming climate change ‘expiration date,'” writes Bailey, a point underscored by Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which promotes cost-effective policies to remediate climate change, hunger, disease, and other global issues. Lomborg notes that the IPCC itself

has found the evidence does not support claims that floods, droughts and cyclones are increasing.

The scientists have said, “there is low confidence in a global-scale observed trend” in drought, a “lack of evidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale” and “no significant observed trends in global (cyclone) frequency over the past century.”

What’s more, the scientists have found that current human-caused global warming cannot reasonably be linked to any of these extreme weather phenomenon-“globally, there is low confidence in attribution of changes in (cyclone) activity to human influence”, “low confidence in detection and attribution of changes in drought” and low confidence “that anthropogenic climate change has affected the frequency and magnitude of floods”. This doesn’t mean there is no problem-just that the facts matter.

There are only better and worse ways to deal with coming changes. Contra Thunberg, the better ways don’t demonize economic growth as a problem but as a solution. “The most inexorable feature of climate-change modeling isn’t the advance of the sea but the steady economic growth that will make life better despite global warming,” writes science journalist Will Boisvert. The environmental Kuznets curve, by which countries get wealthier and their citizens demand a cleaner environment, is the rule, not the exception. Such a dynamic is predicated upon economic and technological innovation that would be almost impossible under the sort of regulations promulgated by Green New Dealers and activists such as Thunberg and Naomi Klein, who wants to “decimate the entire neoliberal project” in the name of environmentalism. Environmental commons tend to deteriorate as countries begin to develop economically—but once per-capita income reaches a certain level, the public starts to demand a cleanup. It’s a U-shaped pattern: Economic growth initially hurts the environment, Bailey reminds us,

but after a point it makes things cleaner. By then, slowing or stopping economic growth will delay environmental improvement, including efforts to mitigate the problem of man-made global warming.

Greta Thunberg’s histrionics are likely heartfelt but neither they nor the deplorable responses they conjure are a guide forward to good environmental policy in a world that is getting richer every day. For the first time in human history, half the earth’s population is middle class or wealthier and the rate of deaths from natural disasters is well below what it was even a few decades ago. Protecting all that is just as important as protecting the environment and, more importantly, those two goals are hardly mutually exclusive.

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2019-09-24 13:37:57

American democracy, and the constitutional system that supports it, appear to be entering an especially dark and dangerous period.

Here’s what we know about Ukraine-gate:** a complaint was filed under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act (50 USC 3033) regarding a matter of “urgent concern”—defined in the statute as a “serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operation of an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information.”

**As is often the case, Lawfare has an outstanding analysis (by Robert Litt) of the legal background of this matter. Highly recommended.

The complaint was sent (as required by statute) to the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG)—a presidential appointee, by the way.  The statute provides that the ICIG “shall determine whether the complaint or information appears credible,” after which he/she “shall transmit to the Director of National Intelligence a notice of that determination, together with the complaint …”

The ICIG apparently found that the complaint did, indeed, “appear[ ] credible,” and he sent it to the DNI.

The statute says what happens next:

Upon receipt of a transmittal from the Inspector General … the Director shall, within 7 calendar days of such receipt, forward such transmittal to the congressional intelligence committees, together with any comments the Director considers appropriate.  Sec 3033(k)(5)(C) (emphasis added).

This, as everyone knows, has not happened; perhaps we will hear more about the reasons for the Administration’s decision not to follow the statutory command when Acting DNI Joseph McGuire appears before Congress on Thursday.

It means that neither the public nor Congress knows what’s in the complaint, and if I were more confident that we (or at least our elected representatives) would find out soon enough, I’d shut up and wait to see what our president did or did not say.

But I am not confident about that, and the basic contours of what we do know (based both on reporting in the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, and on the President’s own acknowledgment and defenses that he is already putting forward***) are chilling enough.  Apparently, in late July—at a time when his Administration was withholding (at Trump’s explicit direction) almost $400 million in already-appropriated funds targeted for the Ukrainian military—Trump initiated a call to the Ukrainian president, during which he suggested/encouraged, repeatedly, that the Ukrainians coordinate with his personal lawyer (and chief consigliere) and open an investigation into supposed improprieties committed by Joe Biden (on behalf of his son Hunter) when Biden was vice-president.

***See his comments to reporters yesterday:) “The conversation I had [with President Zelensky] was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine …” And today, he hammered again on the anti-corruption theme: “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?”

This is an almost unimaginable breach of his duties as president: trading our taxpayer dollars for political dirt on his opponents, and conditioning critical US foreign policy decisions on a foreign government’s help in his campaign for re-election. This is not just a presidential candidate publicly asking for help from a foreign government (“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”), as terrible as that was. This is the President of the United States using the power that We, the People have placed in his hands for his personal benefit.

The “anti-corruption” defense is truly laughable, and anyone who thinks that Trump’s true concern here is with rooting out corruption in Ukraine is being taken for a ride; he cares as much about corruption in Ukraine as he does about corruption in Russia, in Saudi Arabia, in the Philippines, or in North Korea, viz. not a whit.

I doubt that the conversation contained an explicit quid pro quo; even Trump would not say “Investigate Biden and I’ll release the money” any more than John Gotti would say “Kill that S.O.B. and I will promote you through the ranks.”  But I can already hear the Trump faithful: “See?!  No collusion!! Just good old corruption-fighting!” And I have faith—or at least hope—that the American people will treat that story with the contempt it deserves.

Presidents cannot act this way. Five or ten years ago, that would have been stating the obvious; are we really debating it now? The US government is not the Trump Organization, and the executive branch is not the Mafia. If our governing principle is “the President can do whatever he damn well wants to,” we are in a very, very perilous state indeed.

Where are the Republicans who will stand up to him on this? Trump famously—and grotesquely—boasted during the campaign that he could gun someone down on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and not lose any voters; I did not think that he was including members of the House and Senate in this appraisal. The Republicans hold the key here if we are to avoid turning a genuine national crisis into a partisan shitshow.  I have to believe that there are still some Republican office-holders who will finally say: This is over the line. And I have to believe that there are some Republican senators who will, should it come to an impeachment trial, actually listen to the evidence and cast their vote accordingly.

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