Monday, March 03, 2014

Cruising the Web

For all the criticism that President Obama and John Kerry have received for their flaccid response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there seems to actually be very little that the US can do. And if he succeeds in Ukraine after having proceeded without consequences in Georgia, what will stop him from more moves to regain more former Soviet territory. Russia has realized that they don't need to fear the West.
Moscow is not nervous. Russia’s elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner – everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident – confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. The evidence is there. After Russia’s strike force reached the outskirts of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in 2008, there were statements and bluster, but not a squeak about Russia’s billions. After Russia’s opposition were thrown into show trials, there were concerned letters from the European Union, but again silence about Russia’s billions.

The Kremlin thinks it knows Europe’s dirty secret now. The Kremlin thinks it has the European establishment down to a tee. The grim men who run Putin’s Russia see them like latter-day Soviet politicians. Back in the 1980s, the USSR talked about international Marxism but no longer believed it. Brussels today, Russia believes, talks about human rights but no longer believes in it. Europe is really run by an elite with the morality of the hedge fund: Make money at all costs and move it offshore.
Of course, this is yet another piece of evidence that Obama's supposedly "smarter diplomacy" has failed.
For much of his time in office, President Obama has been accused by a mix of conservative hawks and liberal interventionists of overseeing a dangerous retreat from the world at a time when American influence is needed most.

The once-hopeful Arab Spring has staggered into civil war and military coup. China is stepping up territorial claims in the waters off East Asia. Longtime allies in Europe and in the Persian Gulf are worried by the inconsistency of a president who came to office promising the end of the United States’ post-Sept. 11 wars.

Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor.

It will be a hard argument for him to make, analysts say.
The Washington Post follows up by editorializing that "President Obama's foreign policy is based on fantasy."
FOR FIVE YEARS, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which “the tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past. Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”
The WSJ recommends some steps that the West could take in response to Russia.
Russia today is not the isolated Soviet Union, and its leaders and oligarchs need access to Western markets and capital. All trade and banking relationships with Russia ought to be reconsidered, and the U.S. should restrict the access of Russian banks to the global financial system. Aggressive investigations and leaks about the money the oligarchs and Mr. Putin hold in Western banks might raise the pressure in the Kremlin. The U.S. should also expand the list of Russian officials on the Magnitsky Act's American visa ban and financial assets freeze, including Mr. Putin.
Of course, this would depend on Obama getting European countries to go along. That's not a sure bet.

Obama's administration is also telling Israel to stop killing Iranian nuclear scientists. I guess they're supposed to trust Obama's deal with Iran. As if.

Now Obama is threatening Israel that the US will not be able to defend them if they don't reach some sort of agreement with the Palestinians. Well, we have had a defense treaty with Ukraine since 1994 and we aren't helping them now. Why should Israel think that they would be any different?

The Democrats are back to their old abandonment of fulfilling their governmental responsibilities as they announce that the Senate will not be passing a budget for the next fiscal year.

One legal scholar explains why we have the principle of "standing" and, however frustrating it is to think that there is little that can be done to challenge the President's unilateral flouting of written law, there are reasons for conservatives to support this principle.
Conservatives see standing as essential to the separation of powers, while liberals see it as implicitly favoring old-fashioned property and personal injuries over more inchoate regulatory ones; standing, for example, makes it very hard to challenge governmental mismanagement of the environment.
The standing doctrine enables the White House to "go it alone" by largely keeping the administration out of court and potentially sparing it legal embarrassment. Liberals today seem less vociferous about how standing limits are preventing the courts from defending the substance of the Constitution.

What has been most impressive about the Republican reaction to the legal wall they've run into in opposing the White House's policies is the notable absence of arguments to ignore or dismantle standing. This is constitutionalism at its best: principled limitations on one's own actions and desired goals out of an understanding that the restraint of government power is ultimately in everyone's best interest.

Hopefully, the current episode will be a lesson to all sides that the only thing more dangerous than unbridled executive power is unleashing unchecked judicial power to defeat it.

Matt Lewis has some good advice for the tea party.
There is a notion that Beltway conservatives turn up their noses at the hoi palloi, based on shibboleths. And I suppose this is (unfortunately) sometimes true. It is a mistake to assume that real America ought to have the same aesthetic sensibilities as the denizens of the Acela corridor, but it’s also a mistake to assume that the establishment (you know, the people who have spent decades studying politics and watching candidates come and go) have accrued zero wisdom regarding how to identify winners and con artists.

Conservatism is at least partly about prudence and wisdom, and so when I see candidates who are demonstrably imprudent — who run sloppy, unserious campaigns — who engage in cheap demagoguery — I’m reminded of Joan Didion’s axiom that “style is character.” (Note: This is very consistent with the philosophy that one’s work reflects who they are as a person.)

While conservatives should reject elitism, the impulse to embrace flamboyant leaders based almost solely on their anti-establishment rhetoric and newness, must be resisted. Candidates and leaders should be evaluated based on their commitment to the cause, their competence, and their character.

Anti-Obamacare sentiments have entered Mardi Gras.

Kimberley Strassel details how the IRS is still targeting conservative groups and that it has gotten worse.
About a month after the IRS inspector general released his bombshell report about IRS targeting of conservative groups last May, Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel unveiled a "plan of action" for correcting the mess. One highlight was that targeted groups would be offered a new optional "expedited" process for getting 501(c)(4) status.

The deal, which received little public attention, boiled down to this: We'll do our job, the IRS said, if you give up your rights. Those taking part in the "expedited" process had to agree to limit to 40% the amount of spending and time (calculated by employee and volunteers hours) they spend on political activity. Current 501(c)(4) rules allow political spending up to 49%, and have no "time" component. The clear point of the "deal" was to use the lure of 501(c)(4) approval to significantly reduce the political activity of targeted conservative groups going forward.

Some groups, desperate to get their tax exemption, took the deal. Others refused to be victimized twice. One of them is the Tea Party Patriots, run by Jenny Beth Martin, who told me that she didn't feel it was right that"every other 501(c)(4) would get to live under a different standard than those of us who had been targeted, and had been waiting for a determination for years." She let the deadline for using the expedited process pass.

Not long after, the IRS was back hounding the Tea Party Patriots with new requirements. In addition to re-demanding information that Ms. Martin's group had already supplied, the IRS insisted on new details, like the groups' fundraising letters from 2012. Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing targeted groups, tells me one of her clients suffered the same fate. The IRS called to ask if the group would take part in its expedited process. When it turned down the IRS, the government agency hit the group with new questions about its activities. This all happened last summer.

As of last week, Ms. Martin's group had been waiting three years and three months for its 501(c)(4) letter. (Before Mr. Obama was president, the average time was three weeks.) The targeting has had its intended effect: Ms. Martin notes that supporters of her group have asked to be dissociated, for fear of their own IRS audit.

How Obamacare harms the working poor: the lock-out effect.
The disincentive to work (to qualify for the ACA’s subsidies) and the disincentive to hire (to avoid the ACA’s penalties) will combine to hurt those who can least afford not to work. Had the ACA’s authors been more careful, they could have avoided locking out our most vulnerable citizens from economic advancement and upward mobility. But, as becomes clearer with each passing day, the policy minds that brought us the ACA are anything but careful.

Democrats facing tough reelection this year aren't so eager to support Eric Holder's call to restore voting rights to felons.

John Hinderaker has a great post headline "Russia invades Ukraine, Obama declares Happy Hour."

Apparently, Joe Biden has realized what almost every vice president in history has learned - being vice president is a crummy job.
Vice President Joe Biden has revealed that the President assigned him ‘every s*** job in the world’ but he still wasn’t able to win Obama’s full support and began being effectively frozen out after one of his infamous gaffes.

The Washington Examiner explains how a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow schools to bar students wearing T-shirts with the American flag on them on Cinco de Mayo is inviting more threats of violence. That is what happens when authority succumbs to the hecklers' veto.

The UNC academic scandal is earning more worthy derision from the national media, this time from Businessweek. What amazes me is how the NCAA can be seemingly indifferent to a school giving athletes, including members of the 2005 championship basketball team phony classes that didn't meet and have a couple hundred grades changed without the permission or knowledge of professors.

Yet more evidence of how careless postings on social media can cost one. Here is the story of how a daughter's bragging on Facebook cost her father an $80,000 settlement.