Friday, February 27, 2015

Cruising the Web

Do the people in the Obama administration responsible for working against terrorism even talk to each other. Just this week we had Secretary of State John Kerry solemnly assuring us how safe we are from terrorism and how we're at an all-time low for terrorism. Then the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to the exact opposite.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying on Capitol Hill, catalogued the growing terror-fueled violence in stark terms.

"When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled," Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He offered statistics that would appear to challenge other administration officials' claims that the country and world are safer today.

A day earlier, Kerry testified at a separate hearing that, "Despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally; less deaths, less violent deaths today, than through the last century."
Meanwhile the director of the FBI James Comey was also announcing that the FBI is investigating suspected ISIS supporters in all 50 states.

Is Kerry deliberately lying to downplay the threats and try to increase confidence in this feckless administration, or does he really believe his own claptrap? Which is the more dismaying possibility?

One day Kerry's fatuous testimony will come back to bite him just as Obama's quote about ISIS just being a JV team.

The Obama economy has truly been one for the record books.

What's a little violation of the Constitution matter when the Obama administration is out to shore up Obamacare? Philip Klein explains how the Treasury made $3 billion in Obamacare payments that were not authorized by Congress.
The U.S. Treasury Department has rebuffed a request by House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., to explain $3 billion in payments that were made to health insurers even though Congress never authorized the spending through annual appropriations.

At issue are payments to insurers known as cost-sharing subsidies. These payments come about because President Obama’s healthcare law forces insurers to limit out-of-pocket costs for certain low income individuals by capping consumer expenses, such as deductibles and co-payments, in insurance policies. In exchange for capping these charges, insurers are supposed to receive compensation.

What’s tricky is that Congress never authorized any money to make such payments to insurers in its annual appropriations, but the Department of Health and Human Services, with the cooperation of the U.S. Treasury, made them anyway.

Charles C. W. Cooke looks at the continuing downfall of MSNBC and contemplates the differences between FOX News and MSNBC.
In self-professedly “non-partisan” circles, it is common to hear it said that MSNBC is essentially just a leftward-leaning version of Fox News. This appraisal, I think, is wide of the mark. Contrary to its favored claim, Fox is not in fact “Fair and Balanced” but is a rightward-leaning station with an ideologically driven owner, a clear target audience, and an obvious and pronounced set of political biases. Or, as one wag has put it, Fox is designed to appeal to “a niche market called half the country.” This being so the problem is less that Fox is “extreme” or that it is “out of touch,” and more that it is geared rather unsubtly toward serving one of America’s two philosophical poles. As one can open the New York Times and still easily recognize the country one is discussing, to dive into Fox’s world is to be exposed to a familiar but slanted impression of America and its people. Should viewers seek out a second opinion? Absolutely. Should they automatically discount the one they heard on Fox? No, of course not. In this regard Fox is a little different from MSNBC, which, by unlovely contrast, does not aim at a broad swath of the United States at all, but is instead focused on a fascinating alternative universe to which few would-be viewers have ever been. Its handful of rather ordinary news anchors to one side, MSNBC’s hosts do not so much exist to represent a popular viewpoint as they are put on air to play a set of dramatic roles in what has become a vast and monomaniacal piece of conspiratorial performance art, of the sort that one might see composed by the theater department at Oberlin....

Unlike Rush Limbaugh and Fox News — whose audiences flock in droves to hear a point of view that they will not hear anywhere else — MSNBC has found itself in direct competition with more subtly left-leaning outlets such as NPR, CNN, HLN, and the majority of the country’s national newspapers. This has naturally put it at a disadvantage from which the handful of conservative channels are immune. But that MSNBC has also been so sorely lacking in both talent and sanity has been the real fatal blow. It really is no accident that the channel has been at its most popular when its main attractions were likable and competent and when its output was tolerable to viewers who have more than politics in their lives. At present, it is the winsome Rachel Maddow who dominates the ratings. Back in the day, it was the talented and surprisingly likable Keith Olbermann who brought in the eyeballs. The rest of the charisma-free cast, however, viewers can clearly take or leave. This is no accident.

Similarly, too, it should not come as a surprise that MSNBC “regularly attracted a million viewers” during the period in which its hosts aimed their fire at people who actually held power, or that this audience disappeared when they consciously retreated into advocacy. During the Bush years, a significant number of Americans became desperate to hear views that differed sharply from the prevailing political wisdom of the age, and they turned to Olbermann and Co. to find them. Since that time, however, the government has changed, and with it the center of political gravity. Unfortunately for its architects, MSNBC’s business model was built upon the presumption that transient anti-Bush sentiment would translate neatly into viable amounts of permanent anti-conservative outrage, and that the same people who disliked the previous administration on the merits would be keenly interested in watching a bunch of nearsighted know-nothings rail against invisible bogeymen, abstract nouns, and the omnipotent, omnipresent Koch brothers. As we are beginning to see, this simply did not happen. Nor, I would venture, is it going to. That MSNBC is beginning earnestly to inspect the lifeboats indicates that its higher-ups are aware of the problem. But, unless they are resolved to turn their ship around rather dramatically, they will soon be joining Farrow in the water.
I'm not sure that Keith Olbermann was ever all that likable, surprisingly or otherwise. Witness that he just got suspended from ESPN for tweeting nastily about a Penn State student fundraiser to fight against pediatric cancer. Somehow, the surprisingly likable Olbermann found such an effort by college students to be "pitiful." What a charmer.

Doesn't the army have something better to do than investigate Medal of Honor recipients for nothingburger charges that they don't even bring?

Oh, John Kerry, now you're just playing with us. Now he's dissing Bibi Netanyahu for supporting the invasion of Iraq. That would be the war that Kerry himself voted for.
As Kessler notes, the Los Angeles Times titled a January 2003 story “On Iraq, Kerry Appears Either Torn or Shrewd.” In retrospect he appears anything but shrewd, since Kerry’s equivocation made him a laughingstock and arguably cost him the White House. Presumably he doesn’t mean to revive a joke at his own expense—which of course only makes it funnier.

On Twitter, Dan McLaughlin remarks: “This is a preview of the ‘Hillary didn’t *really* support the Iraq War’ argument.” He links to his own lengthy treatment of the subject, which appeared last spring at the Federalist. His conclusion then: “Hillary Clinton’s best hope of reconciling with those who fail to understand or accept the basis of her Iraq War vote is to bank on yesterday staying gone.”

This week, she’s not getting much help from her successor at Foggy Bottom—compared with whom Mrs. Clinton was much less equivocal in her support for the war and took much longer to renounce it.

Meanwhile, look at the list of prospective GOP presidential candidates (based on the polls we cited in yesterday’s column): Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker. Not one of them was in Congress in 2002. That means there is a very strong likelihood the 2016 presidential election will pit a Democrat who voted to authorize the Iraq war against a Republican who didn’t.

Just imagine what they could do if they attempted something worthwhile: "Media Matters Sics All 45 of Its Researchers on Bill O’Reilly.""

Meanwhile, speaking of supposed media watchdogs, Kevin Williamson details his experience of Polifact doing a so-called "fact-check" of something that Williamson wrote that Polifact had to admit was actually true, but still rated "half true."

There are lessons for Republicans from the past week of the media's aggressive interest in Scott Walker and what he thinks about a range of irrelevant questions.

National Review put up an old column from Byron York reviewing two biographies about Hillary Clinton. It's good to remember what a despicable person she is.
But there’s another sense in which Clinton was right to be concerned. Though bereft of headline-making disclosures, each book contains page after page of new details, some of them so far ignored in the press, that reveal Hillary Rodham Clinton to be even more secretive, even more politically tin-eared, and even more combative than previously known. For example, we’ve all heard about the famous War Room of the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. But Gerth and Van Natta reveal that across the alley from the War Room was a more secretive effort, headed by Hillary and known as the Defense Team, that really got into the down-and-dirty stuff. The Defense Team’s job was to knock down any allegation, no matter how well founded, about Bill Clinton’s girlfriends, his avoidance of the draft, Whitewater, Hillary Clinton’s legal work — anything that might hurt the campaign. And to do it by any means necessary, legal or not: Gerth and Van Natta report that on one occasion Mrs. Clinton listened to a “secretly recorded audiotape” of Clinton adversaries talking on the phone about the next possible bimbo eruption. “Bill’s supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones,” Gerth and Van Natta add, “and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions.” Who knew that Mrs. Clinton was an early advocate of warrantless wiretapping?

....Gerth and Van Natta also show Clinton employing secret staffers, in the process sneaking around Senate rules that don’t suit her fancy. They show her threatening a staffer with “You’ll never work in Democratic politics again” if the staffer failed to cover up tax returns showing Clinton’s commodities-trading profits. And they show her directing the operation to stonewall the independent-counsel investigations of her husband. Bernstein’s book doesn’t dwell on that kind of detail. But with a lot of prime sources in the Clinton camp, Bernstein goes much deeper than Gerth and Van Natta, portraying a Hillary Clinton who was even more closely involved in the running of her husband’s administration than we thought. And not only more closely involved — she was also even less competent and more politically maladroit than we thought....

Democrats outside the administration were unhappy, too. Bernstein describes a meeting in April 1993 at which Hillary briefed top party leaders on the health-care task force’s progress. When then-senator Bill Bradley suggested that some changes might be required, she told him to forget it; if any lawmakers even tried, she said, the White House would “demonize” them. Bradley later unloaded on Bernstein. “That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton,” he said. “You don’t tell members of the Senate you are going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. The assumption that people with questions are enemies. The disdain. The hypocrisy.”

And then there was the rest of Washington. During Hillary’s early days in the White House, Washington journalist and social fixture Sally Quinn wrote a much-noted column saying Hillary should remember that she wasn’t elected president. Quinn’s impudence angered Bill Clinton, who raged against Quinn in a conversation with advisers James Carville and Rahm Emanuel. But years later Emanuel told Bernstein, “James and I had the same take on it, which was, ‘God bless Sally for being honest.’ She was f — ing honest.”

And those, as they say, were her friends.

Reading Bernstein’s account, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mrs. Clinton benefited greatly, both in Arkansas and the White House, from the eagerness of her husband’s supporters to overrate her. “There was too much mythology about Hillary that stretched the facts,” Donna Shalala told Bernstein. Shalala, Bernstein writes, “had always been made uncomfortable by hyperbolic statements from friends and acolytes of Hillary…who put forth the notion that had she pursued her own political career and not deferred to Bill Clinton’s she would have been a governor or a senator in her own right by 1992.” Mrs. Clinton’s fans, Shalala continued, “assume that [just] being smart is enough. And it’s not enough. It’s judgment. It’s experience. It’s being strategic at the right points.” Not Mrs. Clinton’s strong points.
How pitiful the Democratic Party has become that this woman is all they have to put forth in 2016.

Oh, and now there is this revelation from the trove of documents that Judicial Watch has leveraged out of the State Department.
From the very first moments of the terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her top aides were advised that the compound was under a terrorist attack. In fact, less than two hours into the attack, they were told that the al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya, Ansar al-Sharia, had claimed responsibility.
But that didn't stop Hillary and the State Department from maintaining the fiction for far too long that the attack was the result of a video posted on the internet. But then, what difference does it make that the Secretary of State knowingly lied to the American people?

Christian Schneider explains why the unions are going to lose in their fight to forestall Wisconsin's right-to-work law.
What these [pro-union] groups can't seem to grasp is that Wisconsinites actually support the idea of being able to hold a job without being forced to pay dues to a union. According to a poll that noted Marquette pollster Charles Franklin deemed the best when it comes to asking a right-to-work question, 62% of Wisconsinites said they would support such a bill.

These aren't people who are under the thumb of the Koch brothers or who are necessarily antagonistic toward unions. They are just regular Wisconsinites expressing their views on workplace fairness.

That is why the anti-right-to-work protests this week have been so lachrymose. The 2011 public sector union protests had a festive, carnival-style feel. But the crowds around the Wisconsin Capitol this week have been small and glum. On any given summer Saturday morning, bigger crowds show up around the Capitol for the Dane County farmers market.

The private sector unions know the bill is going to pass, and there's nothing they can do to stop it.

Even the bill's legislative opponents haven't been able to muster up any plausible opposition. In a hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha) tried to rename right-to-work legislation the "wage theft bill," evidently unaware that forced union dues are the very definition of "wage theft." (However, the most ridiculous argument belongs to the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, which has argued that infant mortality rates are higher in right-to-work states. Not paying union dues now kills babies, evidently.)

In the end, people get that nobody should be forced to financially support a private group from which they believe they get no benefit. And if unions don't want to represent people who don't pay dues, they are under no obligation to do so.
And here's a final kicker for a comparison.
Just go around any union meeting hall and tell all the members they are required to pay dues to the Koch brothers because they are fighting for lower taxes and more take-home pay.
We can imagine the response to that. The Koch brothers they're fighting for what is best for Americans. That is their right. But it doesn't mean that there should be laws forcing people to contribute to their fight. Exactly so for unions.

Charles Krauthammer explains why Obama's proposed deal with Iran is so awful.
The news from the nuclear talks with Iran was already troubling. Iran was being granted the “right to enrich.” It would be allowed to retain and spin thousands of centrifuges. It could continue construction of the Arak plutonium reactor. Yet so thoroughly was Iran stonewalling International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors that just last Thursday the IAEA reported its concern “about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed . . . development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Bad enough. Then it got worse: News leaked Monday of the “sunset clause.” President Obama had accepted the Iranian demand that any restrictions on its program be time-limited. After which, the mullahs can crank up their nuclear program at will and produce as much enriched uranium as they want. Sanctions lifted. Restrictions gone. Nuclear development legitimized. Iran would re-enter the international community, as Obama suggested in an interview last December, as “a very successful regional power.” A few years — probably around ten — of good behavior and Iran would be home free. The agreement thus would provide a predictable path to an Iranian bomb. Indeed, a flourishing path, with trade resumed, oil pumping, and foreign investment pouring into a restored economy. Meanwhile, Iran’s intercontinental-ballistic-missile program is subject to no restrictions at all. It’s not even part of these negotiations. Why is Iran building them? You don’t build ICBMs in order to deliver sticks of dynamite. Their only purpose is to carry nuclear warheads. Nor does Iran need an ICBM to hit Riyadh or Tel Aviv. Intercontinental missiles are for reaching, well, other continents. North America, for example.
Krauthammer goes on to explain that, now it would be permitted for Iran to have a nuclear weapon future, other countries in the area would rush to develop their own nuclear weapon programs.
The deal now on offer to the ayatollah would confer legitimacy on the nuclearization of the most rogue of rogue regimes: radically anti-American, deeply jihadist, purveyor of terrorism from Argentina to Bulgaria, puppeteer of a Syrian regime that specializes in dropping barrel bombs on civilians. In fact, the Iranian regime just this week, at the apex of these nuclear talks, staged a spectacular attack on a replica U.S. carrier near the Strait of Hormuz.

Well, say the administration apologists, what’s your alternative? Do you want war?

It’s Obama’s usual, subtle false-choice maneuver: It’s either appeasement or war.

It’s not. True, there are no good choices, but Obama’s prospective deal is the worst possible. Not only does Iran get a clear path to the bomb but it gets sanctions lifted, all pressure removed, and international legitimacy.

There is a third choice. If you are not stopping Iran’s program, don’t give away the store. Keep the pressure, keep the sanctions. Indeed, increase them. After all, previous sanctions brought Iran to its knees and to the negotiating table in the first place. And that was before the collapse of oil prices, which would now vastly magnify the economic effect of heightened sanctions.

Congress is proposing precisely that. Combined with cheap oil, it could so destabilize the Iranian economy as to threaten the clerical regime. That’s the opening. Then offer to renew negotiations for sanctions relief but from a very different starting point — no enrichment. Or, if you like, with a few token centrifuges for face-saving purposes.

And no sunset.

That’s the carrot. As for the stick, make it quietly known that the U.S. will not stand in the way of any threatened nation that takes things into its own hands. We leave the regional threat to the regional powers, say, Israeli bombers overflying Saudi Arabia.
Obama would prefer a deal to any possibility of a neutralizing Iran's nuclear weapon program. Sanctions were biting, but Obama gave them up for a mess of pottage.

It turns out that proscutorial discretion doesn't mean that prosecutors actually have discretion.

Jonah Goldberg ponders the fatigue besetting the Left. The decline of MSNBC parallels a broader story.
The president is unbowed, of course. He’s unilaterally using — and abusing — the powers of his office to legalize illegal immigration, throw a wet blanket on cheap energy, and turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility. He has the support of his dwindling party and the equally dwindling mainstream media. But even here his policy agenda is as threadbare as his cultural legacy. A majority of Americans believe race relations have gotten worse since he was elected.

Meanwhile, the cultural Left has disengaged from mainstream political arguments, preferring instead the comforts of identity-politics argy-bargy. You judge political movements not by their manifestos but by where they put their passion. And on the left these days, the only things that arouse passion are arguments about race and gender.

For instance, the feminist agitprop drama The Vagina Monologues is now under fire from the left because it is not inclusive of men who believe they are women. Patricia Arquette was criticized from the right for her Oscar-acceptance rant about women’s wage equality, but the criticism paled in comparison to the bile from the left, which flayed her for leaving out the plight of the transgendered and other members of the Coalition of the Oppressed.

Such critiques may seem like a cutting-edge fight for the future among the protagonists, but looked at from the political center, it suggests political exhaustion. At least old-fashioned Marxists talked about the economy.

Of course liberalism isn’t dead; it’s just resting. But it certainly could use an exciting, charismatic savior to breathe new life and fresh thinking into its ranks. Thank goodness Hillary Clinton is waiting in the wings.

From the vault: Sports Illustrated put up their story from when Kevin Garnett was just entering the NBA. Good times.