Monday, June 02, 2014

Cruising the Web

Being president means having to make tough decisions where there are often no good choices. Negotiating for the exchange of an American soldier for five Taliban prisoners held at Gitmo is one such choice. We can rejoice that Sgt. Bergdahl's safe release no matter what the circumstances of his leaving the base were in the first place or his prior statements about the United States army. He is still an American serviceman held in captivity and we wanted him brought home. But there is something very disturbing about the exchange of these particular Taliban members. Thomas Joscelyn profiles these men and the thought of their now being freed is quite disturbing.
The Taliban has long sought freedom for the "Gitmo Five," all of whom are experienced jihadists and helped run the Taliban's operations in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. They served in various military and intelligence roles.

All five of the detainees were deemed "high" risks to the US and its allies by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). Two of the five, according to files prepared at Guantanamo, have been wanted by the UN for war crimes.

One of them served as a key intermediary between the Iranian regime and the Taliban after 9/11. During meetings between these two former foes, the Iranians pledged to assist the Taliban in its war against the US.

The Obama administration has long sought to coax the Taliban into meaningful peace talks, which have thus far been fruitless. The Taliban has demanded that the "Gitmo Five" be released before those talks move forward.

A key goal of those talks is to get the Taliban to renounce al Qaeda, something Mullah Omar's group has declined to do. It is difficult to see how the prisoner swap helps to achieve that goal. All five of the now ex-Gitmo detainees were closely allied with al Qaeda prior to their detention. And Bergdahl was initially captured by members of the Haqqani Network, which remains one of al Qaeda's strongest allies to this day.
Read the details. It will remind you that the people being held at Gitmo are not innocent victims. There is a reason why they were there.

And there is something deeply disturbing about the Obama administration's just brushing aside a federal law about informing Congress before any release from Gitmo because the President just deemed it unnecessary. Imagine what the Democrats would be saying if President Bush had ignored a federal law because he'd made a signing statement saying he wouldn't follow the law.
A senior administration official, agreeing to speak on the condition of anonymity to explain the timing of the congressional notification, acknowledged that the law was not followed. When he signed the law last year, Obama issued a signing statement contending that the notification requirement was an unconstitutional infringement on his powers as commander in chief and that he therefore could override it.
Their claims of urgency don't address why they couldn't have at least made a call to Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, the heads of the Congress's intelligence committees to let them know what was going on. But they didn't even do that. Once again, we have the President bypassing a law that he himself signed. The law itself might be of questionable constitutionality in its restrictions on the president's commander-in-chief powers. Think of the outrage when the details of Irancontra were revealed and we found out that members of the Reagan administration had broken the law in order to free hostages held in Lebanon. We usually don't applaud presidents who break the law, but Obama has done this over and over with Obamacare and now with this prisoner exchange. He did it with the War Powers Act. Certain laws apparently don't matter if the President doesn't want to follow them. I don't know who would have standing to challenge his action, but if there is truly no action that can be taken to stop a president from evading the laws he doesn't like, we have a very severe problem with our entire system of checks and balances.

Here is one chart that refutes Democrats' claims that the whole problem with the VA was insufficient funding.

And contrary to their claims, the proposal put forth by the Democrats that the Republicans opposed would not have done anything to have addressed the VA scandal. And the VA didn't even want the major provision of the bill.
Last February, before the Veterans Affairs health care scandal broke, Sen. Bernard Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, joined with 28 Democratic co-sponsors to offer a bill increasing funding for the VA by $20 billion -- even though the agency had failed to use all the money Congress had given it in the form of big budget increases in recent years.

Sanders' bill, S.1982, officially titled the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, was a hodgepodge of several previous bills. "The package would improve VA health care and dental care, expand educational opportunities, help the VA address a disability claims backlog and help veterans find jobs," Sanders' office said.

The bill would essentially offer VA health care services to all veterans, including those who do not have service-related problems and have incomes above current cutoff levels. It would also greatly expand a program that pays caregivers of disabled veterans a monthly stipend. Congress originally passed the measure for veterans of post-Sept. 11 wars; Sanders would expand it to all veterans.

The caregivers provision is one of the single most expensive features of the bill, and it was put into the legislation over the objections of the Department of Veterans Affairs itself, which believes it would cost even more than Sanders estimated. "VA believes the expansion of benefits to caregivers of eligible veterans of all eras would make the program more equitable,” the agency noted in a statement on cost. “Unfortunately, core health-care services to veterans would be negatively impacted without the additional resources necessary to fund the expansion.”
And Sanders would have paid for these new expenses with the mythical money that is not going to be spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many times are Democrats going to spend that money that wasn't going to be spent in the first place. With that sort of budgeting principle, we could spend without end as long as we say we're going to use funds that were never going to be spent in the first place. The possibilities are as endless as liberals seem to think the federal budget might be. As Byron York concludes,
And so on. What is striking about Sanders' bill is not just its price tag but how irrelevant it is to the most serious problems besetting the VA health care system. It was like adding new chrome to a car that won't run. When Republicans stopped the bill earlier this year, Democrats predictably accused them of being insensitive to veterans' needs. Now, with the VA scandal raging on Capitol Hill, look for these proposals to pop up again. It's unclear what Congress will do, but one certainty in the debate is that the Sanders bill won't solve the problem.

The National Journal reports that a shortage of doctors is not just a problem for the VA. It is a problem for the entire country.
While students are applying to and enrolling in medical schools in record numbers, high interest does not necessarily mean more doctors. The number of residences—crucial stages of medical training—has not risen with the number of applicants, thanks to a government-imposed cap. The Association of American Medical Colleges has pushed Congress to change the law, predicting that there won't be enough residencies for young doctors by next year.

Meanwhile, the number of patients is increasing. Millions of previously uninsured Americans are now able to seek medical care under the Affordable Care Act. Baby boomers are getting older and racking up new ailments, which means they making more trips to the doctor's office. (The boomers who are doctors themselves are nearing retirement age.)

Fred Hiatt analyzes Obama's foreign policy through the President's own words.
Last week President Obama said the United States should consider unilateral military action only when the nation or its allies are directly threatened.

His stance would repudiate decades of bipartisan foreign policy — and Obama’s own views of just 10 months ago.

What might have caused his shift? I have a theory. But first, look at how his views have evolved.

At West Point on Wednesday, the president said, “The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.”

But, he said, “when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us . . . we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action.”

Presidents generally seek allies for their foreign interventions. But the idea that the United States couldn’t act alone to stop a genocide, say, would have come as a surprise to previous presidents.
Now Obama is contradicting his own prior statements. I think Obama would be very disappointed with Obama.

The Obama administration has a new Obama Doctrine: "Don't do stupid sh**." Eloquent, but pithy. Meanwhile, he literally knocks on wood and plans for his legacy and post-presidency and holds meeting trying to figure out all the ways he can operate without Congress. Then he wanders around complaining to people about the bubble he has to live in as president. He can't even play basketball as much as he'd like. but he can still hang out with athletes. He just doesn't sound like a man who is enjoying being president beyond the perks of getting to talk and hang out with whomever he wants to.

Ed Driscoll interviews Amity Shlaes about her book The Forgotten Man and its new graphic edition. I enjoyed the book and its new insights on the Great Depression. Perhaps having a graphic edition will bring her book to a new audience.

The IRS will have to answer questions about why it used extra scrutiny to an application for tax-exempt status specifically because the organization opposed the Obama administration's political agenda.
A federal judge ruled last week that discovery in a lawsuit challenging the IRS’s scrutiny of the pro-Israel group Z Street may proceed. The judge in question is Ketanji Brown Jackson, an Obama appointee. Judge Brown Jackson is, from all I can tell, a down-the-line liberal. But she rejected in no uncertain terms the government’s attempts to short-circuit this lawsuit against the IRS.

Z Street alleges that the IRS gave extra scrutiny to its application for tax-exempt status because it was concerned that Z Street’s advocacy is contrary to positions taken by the Obama administration. In doing so, says Z Street, the government violated the organization’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Z Street’s allegations seem as substantial as they are unsurprising. According to its complaint, an IRS agent told the organization that applications for tax-exempt status from Israel-related entities are sent to a special unit in Washington to determine whether such organizations’ activities contradict the Obama administration’s public policies.

The IRS denies this allegation. It claims that its policy is to provide special scrutiny to applicants that could provide resources to organizations in a country, such as Israel, that faces a high risk of terrorism.

The notion that funds given to an obviously pro-Israel group might create a heightened risk of terrorism in Israel seems laughable.
The results for discovery in this lawsuit should prove quite interesting.

Winston Churchill's daughter, Mary Soames, has passed away. She was the last surviving child.