Friday, December 12, 2014

Cruising the Web

David Ignatius notes that the Senate Democrats CIA report ignored the Congress's own role in oversight.
A more honest report would have squarely faced the arguments made by former CIA officials that key members of Congress were informed about interrogation practices and, far from objecting, condoned the very CIA activities we now judge to have been wrong.

“There’s great hypocrisy in politicians’ criticism of the CIA’s interrogation program,” wrote Jose Rodriguez, the CIA deputy director who oversaw it, in last weekend’s Washington Post. That allegation deserves a serious response, rather than the stonewall it got from Feinstein.

“The CIA briefed Congress approximately 30 times” on interrogation, according to six former CIA directors or deputy directors in an article Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal. “The briefings were detailed and graphic and drew reactions that ranged from approval to no objection.”
Charles Krauthammer also points to the Democrats' hypocrisy in denouncing programs that they approved at the time. He reminds us that al Qaeda had carried out Four major attacks on U.S. targets in the previous three years when we include the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole. Anthrax was showing up in government mailboxes. There was bipartisan support for the CIA to learn what it could as quickly as it could.
Democrat Jay Rockefeller, while the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked in 2003 about turning over Khalid Sheik Mohammed to countries known to torture. He replied: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned.”

There was no uproar about this open countenancing of torture-by-proxy. Which demonstrates not just the shamelessness of Democrats today denouncing practices to which, at the time and at the very least, they made no objection. It demonstrates also how near-consensual was the idea that our national emergency might require extraordinary measures.

This is not to say that in carrying out the program there weren’t abuses, excesses, mismanagement and appalling mistakes (such as the death in custody — unintended but still unforgivable — of two detainees). It is to say that the root-and-branch denunciation of the program as, in principle, unconscionable is not just hypocritical but ahistorical.

To make that case, to produce a prosecutorial brief so entirely and relentlessly one-sided, the committee report (written solely by Democrats) excluded any testimony from the people involved and variously accused. None. No interviews, no hearings, no statements.

The excuse offered by the committee is that a parallel Justice Department inquiry precluded committee interviews. Rubbish. That inquiry ended in 2012. It’s December 2014. Why didn’t they take testimony in the interval? Moreover, even during the Justice Department investigation, the three CIA directors and many other officials were exempt from any restrictions. Why weren’t they interviewed?

Answer: So that committee Democrats could make their indictment without contradiction. So they could declare, for example, the whole program to be a failure that yielded no important information — a conclusion denied by practically every major figure involved, including Democrat and former CIA director Leon Panetta; Obama’s current CIA director, John Brennan; and three other CIA directors (including a Clinton appointee).

Perhaps, say the critics, but we’ll never know whether less harsh interrogation would have sufficed.

So what was the Bush administration to do? Amid the smoking ruins of Ground Zero, conduct a controlled experiment in gentle interrogation and wait to see if we’d be hit again?

A nation attacked is not a laboratory for exquisite moral experiments. It’s a trust to be protected, by whatever means meet and fit the threat.

Accordingly, under the direction of the Bush administration and with the acquiescence of congressional leadership, the CIA conducted an uncontrolled experiment. It did everything it could, sometimes clumsily, sometimes cruelly, indeed, sometimes wrongly.

But successfully. It kept us safe.

Sean Trende explains why the extinction of the Southern Democrats wasn't inevitable.
What’s interesting is how fatalistic the coverage has been. Much of the analysis takes an angle that Southern Democrats have “finally” disappeared from the national scene, as if this was destined to happen. But the elimination of a large wing of the party didn’t just sort of “happen.” It was in many ways the result of choices made by the Democratic Party, and not just choices made in 1948 (when a pro-civil rights plank was added to the platform) and 1964....

As the South became increasingly urban and wealthy, as the Democrats abandoned their opposition to civil rights for blacks, and as the party embraced an increasingly liberal position on social and foreign policy issues, these states became increasingly inhospitable to Democrats.

But it was clearly a gradual process. On the eve of the 1994 elections, Democrats controlled two-thirds of the Senate seats in the region. At the state level things were much worse for Republicans. Just looking at state Houses, Republicans controlled more than 40 percent of the seats in Florida (41 percent), South Carolina (41 percent), and Virginia (47 percent). Republicans controlled less than a quarter of the seats in Arkansas (11 percent), Louisiana (17 percent), and Mississippi (23 percent). This is not ancient history.
Liberals would like to blame the losses of Southern Democrats on racism, but that ignores the fact that many Democrats were elected in 2008 riding on Barack Obama's coattails. The real change is in the Democratic candidates. They stopped voting like true moderates who regularly voted with Republicans and they changed to voting in lock-step with the liberals in the Democratic Party. As Trende points out, this was a decided choice of Southern Democrats and they don't look to be changing their trajectory any time soon.
The good news for Southern Democrats is that, because this didn’t just sort of happen, it really is reversible. There are no permanent majorities in politics. An unpopular Republican president would move the needle. A Democratic fundraising base that chose not to go nuclear on a Democratic candidate who opposed Obamacare or the stimulus would have done it. A more culturally “red” Democratic nominee would help. The voters who elected Phil Bredesen governor of Tennessee by 40 points are largely still around, as are the people who elected Mike Beebe governor of Arkansas by 30 points in 2010 and 14 points in 2006. The same goes for the folks who sent Landrieu and Hagan back to the Senate in 2008, or Blanche Lincoln in 2004. The people who elected a swath of moderate-to-conservative Democrats in 2006 and 2008 are still there. The party just has to try to appeal to them, or at least give more latitude to its candidates to appeal to them, as Rahm Emanuel did in 2006.

The bad news for Southern Democrats is that Democrats aren’t likely to do this anytime soon, and if they did, they’d pay a price. Politics, again, is about tradeoffs, and by appealing to a more downscale coalition, Democrats would sacrifice enthusiasm gains among their new coalition. As I’ve said before, if Hillary Clinton had been the nominee in 2008, Mitch McConnell might not have been a senator in 2009, but Gordon Smith might have survived in Oregon. National Democrats don’t seem inclined to make this tradeoff anytime soon (plus, the wipeouts have left Democrats without much of a bench in these states), and the zeitgeist seems to be against it.

The South isn’t a lost cause for Democrats if they don’t want it to be one. Their problem is that the national party doesn’t seem to care right now if it is one, and there are clear electoral benefits from focusing elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the GOP have fielded an intriguing crop of talented, conservative women.

Bloomberg looks at Jeb Bush's Mitt Romney problem.
Documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Nov. 27 list Bush as chairman and manager of a new offshore private equity fund, BH Global Aviation, which raised $61 million in September, largely from foreign investors. In November the fund ­incorporated in the United Kingdom and Wales­—a ­structure, several independent finance lawyers say, that operates like a tax haven by allowing overseas investors to avoid U.S. taxes and regulations....

His flurry of ventures doesn’t suggest someone preparing to run for president, according to a dozen fund managers, lawyers, and ­private-placement agents who were ­apprised of his recent activities by Bloomberg Businessweek. Most private equity funds have a life span of 10 years. While it isn’t impossible that Bush could bail on his investors so soon after taking their money, “that would be unusual,” says Steven Kaplan, a private equity expert at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. One fundraiser for private equity adds that normally you’d be winding down such businesses, rather than expanding them, if you were going to run.

Dorothy Rabinowitz reminds us of "The Unfinished Business of Fort Hood."
There has finally been a significant upturn in the case of the 2009 Fort Hood terror attack in Texas that took the lives of 13 Americans—a saga drenched, since its inception, in official lies and evasions. Not to mention the Defense Department’s studious indifference to the fate of the more than two-dozen survivors, many suffering serious wounds, but who discovered themselves ineligible for the Purple Heart and medical benefits given to military personnel injured in combat. Thanks to strong bipartisan support, the House agreed last week to an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2015 that would provide such benefits for Fort Hood’s and other military victims of terror attacks on American soil.

The provision is now given a good chance of passing the Senate. The question remains whether President Obama will veto it as he has, in the past, threatened to do with any such bill.

In the repeated pronouncements of the Defense Department and the office of the president, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan ’s shooting spree at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center—while shouting “Allahu Akbar!”—could not be categorized as a terror attack. Therefore the surviving servicemen and women could not be said to have suffered combat-related wounds.

Army spokesmen declared that Hasan’s assault should be considered a “criminal act” by a single individual. Or, in the classification soon to become famous, a case of “workplace violence”—an infuriating description that would stick, burning, in the throats of Americans with a memory of that day every time they heard it....

The Obama administration’s propensity for denying reality has been a conspicuous feature from its beginnings, never more so, perhaps, than in the White House aversion to making any connection between Islam and terrorism. Not for nothing was Janet Napolitano, Mr. Obama’s first Homeland Security head, reduced to telling Der Spiegel in 2009 that rather than use words like terrorism, she favored “man-made disasters.” Denial and determined obfuscation created the famous Benghazi talking points and the false story, sustained for weeks, about a sleazy film insulting to Islam as the cause of the murderous assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

In the case of Nidal Hasan, lies and obfuscation driven by a horror of seeming insufficiently concerned with Muslim sensibilities made it possible for a raging anti-American Islamist to be promoted with honors and ultimately put in a position to fulfill his wish to kill American soldiers.

Every branch of the military delivered its own exhaustive report on the Fort Hood assault. In none was there any mention of the taboo topic of Hasan’s well-known connection with radical Islam.

The denial of reality that led his politically concerned superiors to advance Hasan, and give him glowing performance reviews, is of a piece with the determination to categorize his murderous attack on unarmed members of the U.S. military as a case of “workplace violence.” Both perfectly reflect the values and spirit of the administration.

In the months to come there will be a new candidate for defense secretary. One of the first questions asked during confirmation hearings ought to be whether the murder of those Americans at Fort Hood can be called workplace violence. The answer would tell a lot.

Yet another reason why Chris Christie would have too many problems with his record in New Jersey to win the presidency. His efforts to reform New Jersey pensions by suspending COLAs and raising the retirement age haven't been working and now he's being sued by three NJ pension funds and government unions.
Yet the reforms aren’t saving as much money as the governor hoped, and state revenues are falling short of expectations. In May the governor slashed pension funding by $900 million to close a mid-year budget gap and by an additional $1.5 billion from this year’s budget. Mr. Christie stated that “we cannot afford this system,” which he claimed to have fixed three years ago.....

In June his administration argued that “the pension systems are not on the verge of an imminent collapse” and wouldn’t imperil retirees. Yet a state bond sale disclosure last month reported an $83 billion unfunded liability (up from $54 billion in 2011) and projected that six of the state’s seven pension funds will go broke by 2027.

In defending against the union lawsuit, the Christie administration now finds itself in the awkward position of arguing in court that the pension reform’s funding requirements were “constitutionally infirm upon creation and therefore void.” Did the former U.S. Attorney not conduct a legal analysis before signing the law?

Mr. Christie is now demanding that the Democratic legislature pass bolder reforms, but he torpedoed any chance at a compromise by breaking his word and the law. He shouldn’t expect Democrats to do him any other favors, not least because bipartisan victories would mainly serve to boost his presidential aspirations.

The pension reforms were at one time Mr. Christie’s crowning achievement and the reason many Republicans encouraged him to challenge President Obama in 2012. On what now will he hang his White House campaign?
It's one thing to run on a successful record of reforms and quite another to be forced to defend the failure of one of his main actions as governor. And telling hecklers to sit down and shut up won't quiet this mess. However, New Jersey's pension problems aren't unique to that state and quite a few other blue states should beware of what's coming in their futures.

This is typical for the Clintons.
“The State Department is among the U.S. government's worst-performing federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act,” the AP reports, adding that the department usually takes around 450 days to respond to a FOIA request, several times longer than other agencies. “There is no direct evidence that political considerations in a Democratic presidential administration have delayed the release of files about the party's leading contender for 2016. But the agency's delays, unusual even by government standards, have stoked perceptions about what could be taking so long.”

The AP said they have requested copies of Clinton's full schedules and calendars from her years as secretary of state; documents related to the decision to grant a special position for longtime aide Huma Abedin; Clinton's and the agency's roles in the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices; and her role overseeing a major Defense Department contractor.
She didn't accomplish anything while there and the State Department would like to hide any information about what she did there. They would be smart to get it out now so she can use the standard Clintonian excuse that any bad reports about her are just "old news."

The steep decline in oil prices is going to hurt Russia and Iran and maybe our own oil shale industry, but the shakiest of the oil powers is Venezuela.
Venezuela has all three factors present for an imminent political implosion: 1) severe and worsening economic distress, 2) an organized political opposition, and 3) disunity in its security services. Russia and Iran may be in tough economic straits, but the political opposition in both countries is weak and the armed forces and police are clearly under the control of the existing regime.
While seeing the end of Maduro wouldn't be a tragedy, the ripple effects of an implosion in Venezuela would be felt around the hemisphere.

There may be a host of new conservative web outlets, but Drudge and still dominate.