Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cruising the Web

So what's the point? Secretary of State John Kerry threw down a strange gauntlet yesterday to the U.S. Senate.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that U.S. lawmakers won't be able to change the terms of any nuclear agreement with Iran because it won't be legally binding, a statement likely to inspire greater congressional opposition.

Kerry, Washington's senior representative in talks with Tehran, said he reacted with "utter disbelief" to a letter earlier this week signed by 47 Republican senators warning Iran's leaders that an accord with President Barack Obama's team could expire the day he leaves office.

He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the letter undermined U.S. foreign policy and was legally incorrect.

"We've been clear from the beginning: We're not negotiating a, quote, legally binding plan," Kerry told the panel. "We're negotiating a plan that will have in it the capacity for enforcement. We don't even have diplomatic relations with Iran right now."

Kerry said the letter posted Monday by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas "ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of American foreign policy."
Kerry seemed to forget the times when he, as a U.S. senator, free-lanced his own foreign policy in an attempt to thwart first Ronald Reagan and then George W. Bush.
In 1985, for example, then-freshman Senator John Kerry traveled to Nicaragua for a friendly get-together with the Sandinista president, Daniel Ortega. The position of the Reagan administration was to support the opposition Contras. Kerry wasn't much interested in the administration's position. Upon his return to the United States, Kerry met with President Reagan to convey a message from Ortega. Reagan "wasn't thrilled," Kerry later told the New York Times. This week, it's Kerry's turn to be less than thrilled.

In late 2006, Democratic senators Kerry, Chris Dodd (Connecticut), and Bill Nelson (Florida), as well as one Republican who later became a Democrat, Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania), traveled to Damascus. That is, at a time when the policy of the Bush administration was to isolate the Bashar Assad regime because of its aggression in Lebanon support for terrorism, the senators decided to show their support for renewed U.S. relations with Syria.

They also had nice things to say about Syria's dictator. “I feel quite confident in saying this was a conversation worth having and that the administration ought to pursue it,” Kerry declared. Specter claimed to detect in Assad "an interest in negotiating with Israel to try to bring a peaceful settlement" in the Middle East. Nelson praised Assad's supposed "willingness to cooperate with the Americans."
And now he's shocked, shocked that senators would issue a statement informing Iran that executive agreements can be done by future presidents. President Obama should know that since he has reversed some policies that he didn't approve of from his predecessor such as cancelling an agreement Bush had negotiated to sell missile defense protection to Poland and the Czech Republic. How ironic that Obama cancelled such protection to those countries that was to protect them from missiles from Iran and now he's negotiating his own executive agreement that could ver well allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.

Oh, and by the way, Nancy Pelosi totally rejects any comparisons between her own trip to Syria and the Republicans' controversial open letter to Syria.

What this whole episode highlights is how misguided it is for a president to try to go-it-alone on foreign policy without input from Congress. As John Hinderaker explains, the Democrats can only simulate fury over the Republicans' letter by misleading about what the letter actually says.
Kerry’s faux indignation is a given, although I have yet to hear any Democrat explain why the letter doesn’t help, rather than hurt, the president’s negotiating position. The fact that the Senate won’t accept a weak agreement, and the president’s successor may repudiate a weak agreement, helps the president to hold out for a strong agreement, if that is what he really wants. The Democrats’ hysteria suggests that on the contrary, the administration’s objective is to slip past the American people a weak agreement that facilitates Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons....

Strip away the bluster, and Kerry is admitting that the Senate letter is correct. A future president can walk away from an executive agreement at will. Whether this would happen depends, obviously, on who the president is, and on whether the agreement is perceived as effective in blocking the development of nuclear weapons by Iran. Note that the senators aren’t saying that they don’t want an agreement with Iran, they want an agreement–a treaty, in fact–that would be strong, not weak, and that would prevent, rather than facilitate, the development of nuclear weapons. Such an agreement would probably have to include the destruction of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure....

But under our Constitution it is a fact, whether Kerry likes it or not, that an agreement has the legal status of a treaty only if it is ratified by the Senate. If Iran is willing to be content with an executive agreement, fine, but the Cotton letter correctly spells out the consequences.

It is revealing that, despite fevered denunciations of the Senate letter by Democrats, the Secretary of State can attack it as “flat wrong” only by flatly misrepresenting what it says.

In fact, as John Yoo explains, all the letter does is explain the constitutional structure of how foreign policy is conducted. It may or may not have been a smart move politically for the Republicans to issue such a letter and distract attention from the deal that is being negotiated with this kerfuffle about the role of the Senate in foreign policy, but such political concerns don't negate the constitutional accuracy of the content of the letter.
The Cotton letter is right, because if President Obama strikes a nuclear deal with Iran using only instrument (c), he is only committing to refrain from exercising his executive power — i.e., by not attacking Iran or by lifting sanctions under power delegated by Congress. Not only could the next president terminate the agreement; Obama himself could terminate the deal.

In fact, the Cotton letter could have gone farther and pointed out that Obama may make promises that he cannot keep. Since a sole executive agreement is only a commitment for the use of the executive’s authority, it cannot make promises about Congress. Under the Constitution’s Foreign Commerce Clause, only Congress has the authority to impose international economic sanctions. Obama’s executive agreement cannot prevent Congress from imposing mandatory, severe sanctions on Iran without the possibility of presidential waiver (my preferred solution for handling the Iranian nuclear crisis right now). Obama can agree to allow Iran to keep a nuclear-processing capability; Congress can cut Iran out of the world trading and financial system.

Doubts can be raised about the diplomatic wisdom of the letter. The United States has long sought, ideally, to treat the president as “the sole organ” of its foreign policy, though in reality Congress has dominated foreign policy for periods of American history. Centralization of diplomacy in the president has been thought to prevent foreign nations from manipulating our branches against each other, though students of bargaining — or anyone who has to haggle over the price of a car with a salesman and his mysterious manager — will understand that having to overcome a subsequent Senate veto could result in a better deal for the U.S.

But as a matter of constitutional law, the Cotton letter should be no more controversial than a letter that simply enclosed a copy of the U.S. Constitution (without President Obama’s editing).

Democratic big wigs are getting increasingly concerned by Hillary Clinton's political skills. And they worry about the team that she's assembling which just didn't seem ready for prime time. Their hope is that her team will improve once she formally opens her campaign. Their lament is that they didn't receive talking points to help them go out and defend her. Because, of course, a Democrat can't talk about the Clintons without a set of talking points in hand.

Gee, members of this administration do seem to have trouble with their emails. Do you sense a trend?

Well, that's inconvenient. David Brock, one of Hillary's chief defenders about her separate server for her emails once attacked Andrew Cuomo, a potential Clinton rival, for using private emails in violation of state law.

This is also mighty inconvenient for Hillary.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, like all departing federal employees, was required to fill out and sign a separation statement affirming that she had turned over all classified and other government documents, including all emails dealing with official business.

Fox News Megyn Kelly reported Wednesday evening on the requirement and that a spokesman for Clinton had not responded to a request for comment, including an explanation of when the former chief U.S. diplomat signed the mandatory separation agreement or, if she didn't, why didn't she.

Ron Kessler who has written about the relationships between first families and the Secret Service agents assigned to protect them writes that we're seeing the real Hillary Clinton.
As detailed in my book “The First Family Detail,” Mrs. Clinton is so nasty to Secret Service agents who would lay down their lives for her that being assigned to her detail is considered a form of punishment and the worst assignment in the Secret Service.

“We were basically told, the Clintons don’t want to see you, they don’t want to hear you, get out of the way,” says a former Secret Service agent of the Clintons’ White House years. “If Hillary was walking down a hall, you were supposed to hide behind drapes used as partitions. Supervisors would tell us, ‘Listen, stand behind this curtain. They’re coming,’ or ‘Just stand out of the way, don’t be seen.’”

Agents say Hillary’s nastiness and contempt for them, and disdain for law enforcement and the military in general, has continued, both when she was secretary of state and now that she is protected as a former first lady, earning her the distinction of being considered the Secret Service’s most detested protectee.

“Hillary would cuss at Secret Service drivers for going over bumps,” former agent Jeff Crane says.

“There’s not an agent in the service who wants to be in Hillary’s detail,” a current agent says. “If agents get the nod to go to her detail, that’s considered a form of punishment among the agents. She’s hard to work around, she’s known to snap at agents and yell at agents and dress them down to their faces, and they just have to be humble and say, ‘Yes ma’am,’ and walk away.”

The agent adds, “Agents don’t deserve that. They’re there to do a job, they’re there to protect her, they’ll lay their life down for hers, and there’s absolutely no respect for that. And that’s why agents do not want to go to her detail.”

As we return to the lines of defense that we saw over and over again with the Clintons in the 1990s, it's fitting to return to two of the best essays written about Clinton mendacity. Ian Tuttle reminds us of William Safire's column calling Hillary Clinton a "congenital liar." Here's a taste of that column.
Americans of all political persuasions are coming to the sad realization that our First Lady -- a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation -- is a congenital liar.

Drip by drip, like Whitewater torture, the case is being made that she is compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.

1. Remember the story she told about studying The Wall Street Journal to explain her 10,000 percent profit in 1979 commodity trading? We now know that was a lie told to turn aside accusations that as the Governor's wife she profited corruptly, her account being run by a lawyer for state poultry interests through a disreputable broker.

She lied for good reason: To admit otherwise would be to confess taking, and paying taxes on, what some think amounted to a $100,000 bribe.

2. The abuse of Presidential power known as Travelgate elicited another series of lies. She induced a White House lawyer to assert flatly to investigators that Mrs. Clinton did not order the firing of White House travel aides, who were then harassed by the F.B.I. and Justice Department to justify patronage replacement by Mrs. Clinton's cronies.

Now we know, from a memo long concealed from investigators, that there would be "hell to pay" if the furious First Lady's desires were scorned. The career of the lawyer who transmitted Hillary's lie to authorities is now in jeopardy. Again, she lied with good reason: to avoid being identified as a vindictive political power player who used the F.B.I. to ruin the lives of people standing in the way of juicy patronage.
Read the rest for some reminders of who Hillary really is.

Others around the web have been linking to this wonderful 1998 column by Michael Kelly about how he believes all the contradictory stories that Bill Clinton has told us.
I believe the president. I have always believed him. I believed him when he said he had never been drafted in the Vietnam War, and I believed him when he said he had forgotten to mention that he had been drafted in the Vietnam War. I believed him when he said he hadn't had sex with Gennifer Flowers and I believe him now, when he reportedly says he did.

I believe the president did not rent out the Lincoln Bedroom, did not sell access to himself and the vice president to hundreds of well-heeled special pleaders, and did not supervise th elargest, most systematic money-laundering operation in campaign finance history, collecting more than $3 million in illegal and improper donations. I believe that Charlie Trie and James Riady were motivated by noting but patriotism for their adopted country.
Sadly, Michael Kelly died while covering the Iraq war in 2003. Imagine of the updates that he could have been writing about the Clintons and what we have to believe if you're going to give them the benefit of the doubt about all the scandals that have swirled about them since they left the White House.

I'm sure that this is just a coincidence.
As Al Sharpton ran for mayor of New York City in 1997 and for president in 2003, fires at his offices reportedly destroyed critical financial records, and he subsequently failed to comply with tax and campaign filing requirements.

There are several important questions that Hillary didn't answer in her press conference.
QUESTION: Does she consider emails about her family foundation to be personal?

Forced by House Republicans to acknowledge the existence of a rogue server, Clinton deleted more than 30,000 "personal" emails before giving the State Department a cache of emails she deemed to be work-related. How does she define personal? Emails about her mother's funeral, for example, and her daughter's wedding. No reasonable person would expect public disclosure of those kinds of emails.

Why it matters: Clinton could convince herself that emails about the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation are not government-related. After all, it's a private charity. But it's also a well-funded conflict of interest—the subject of multiple investigative stories exploring connections between donations and favors done for donors. You don't have to be a Clinton critic to wonder whether the deleted emails involve pay-to-play. Democratic loyalists wonder, too.

Beware of Clinton spin. Her team is already trying to cast this as a brave fight to keep her private emails from public view. That's a straw man. What she is doing is waging a fight to keep control of emails that were supposed to be in the government's possession.

And the WSJ brings up an extremely pertinent question.
A friend of ours with long years of service in government asked another question raised by Mrs. Clinton’s defense: How could she possibly do her job as Secretary of State without sending a single email that had classified information in it?

Mrs. Clinton insisted Tuesday that “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.” With the Clintons, you always have to parse the meaning of “is,” and Mrs. Clinton didn’t say she never received classified information via email. But if she meant both send and receive, then how could she have done her job given the hundreds of thousands of miles she traveled during her four years at Foggy Bottom?

Surely she had to inspect classified material on numerous occasions while she was on the road doing highly sensitive government business. If some aide had to carry a separate device for classified communications, then that blows away her “convenience” excuse for using a personal email account because she only wanted to carry one device. Maybe the real question is whether anything in her story is true.

And yet more Pinocchios for President Obama.

Barron's has announced that it will withdraw and destroy all copies of the AP European history test prep book that so many were criticizing for its equating Clarence Thomas with the KKK. I wrote about this yesterday from my perspective as a teacher of AP European history.

Somehow, I got to this moving story by Ron Fournier about his son and how bringing him to meet with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush helped the father to understand his son's Asperger's syndrome. As a teacher, I've had the opportunity to work with several students with Asperger's and to witness their struggles to try to make their way through high school while having such trouble relating personally to other students. Some are quite bright, but they just have trouble realizing when it's appropriate to share what they know. High school can be a tough time for any child and this syndrome just mixes in an added level of pain.