Monday, March 16, 2015

Cruising the Web

Cathy Young reports that no one in Russia is buying any of the theories that the Russian government is putting out there about who was responsible for murdering opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
This week, amid growing doubts about the official story of Chechen killers seeking revenge for alleged insults to Islam, Russian TV punditry seems to be doubling down on speculation that Nemtsov’s murder was masterminded by the West or by its proxies in Ukraine.
And no one buys the sincerity of the elaborate praise now being offered up by Russian television for a man that they had recently alleged being a tool of the West in his opposition to Putin. All sorts of theories are being promulgated to blame the murder on some other group trying to make the Russian government look bad.

All of this reminds me of the 1934 murder of a man considered by many as a popular alternative to Josef Stalin, Sergei Kirov.
The murder of Sergei Kirov on December 1, 1934, set off a chain of events that culminated in the Great Terror of the 1930s. Kirov was a full member of the ruling Politburo, leader of the Leningrad party apparatus, and an influential member of the ruling elite. His concern for the welfare of the workers in Leningrad and his skill as an orator had earned him considerable popularity. Some party members had even approached him secretly with the proposal that he take over as general secretary.

It is doubtful that Kirov represented an immediate threat to Stalin's predominance, but he did disagree with some of Stalin's policies, and Stalin had begun to doubt the loyalty of members of the Leningrad apparatus. In need of a pretext for launching a broad purge, Stalin evidently decided that murdering Kirov would be expedient. The murder was carried out by a young assassin named Leonid Nikolaev. Recent evidence has indicated that Stalin and the NKVD planned the crime.

Stalin then used the murder as an excuse for introducing draconian laws against political crime and for conducting a witch-hunt for alleged conspirators against Kirov. Over the next four-and-a-half years, millions of innocent party members and others were arrested -- many of them for complicity in the vast plot that supposedly lay behind the killing of Kirov. From the Soviet point of view, his murder was probably the crime of the century because it paved the way for the Great Terror. Stalin never visited Leningrad again and directed one of his most vicious post-War purges against the city -- Russia's historic window to the West.
Of course, after Kirov was safely out of the picture, Stalin allowed all sorts of praise of Kirov as a fallen martyr and places throughout the country named after him, perhaps the most famous for Westerners probably the Kirov Ballet. The current parallels of a popular politician considered a threat to a dictatorial leader being mysteriously murdered while the government tries to capitalize on the murder by blaming other enemies of the government are quite striking.

The WSJ points out how President Obama is set to defer to the United Nations, but not the U.S. Congress in the agreement he is pursuing with Iran.
The real constitutional outlier here is Mr. Obama’s attempt to jam Congress so it’s irrelevant. That’s clear from a remarkable exchange of letters between Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

Mr. Corker wrote March 12 asking the President to clarify comments by Vice President Joe Biden and others that an Iran deal could “take effect without congressional approval.” He also asked about media reports that “your administration is contemplating taking an agreement, or aspects of it, to the United Nations Security Council for a vote,” while threatening to veto legislation that would require Congress to vote.

Mr. McDonough replied for the President on the weekend in a letter that can only be described as an affront to Congress’s constitutional prerogatives. The chief of staff asked Mr. Corker to further delay his bipartisan legislation that would require a Senate vote within 60 days on any Iran deal. “The legislation would potentially prevent any deal from succeeding by suggesting that Congress must vote to ‘approve’ any deal, and by removing existing sanctions waiver authorities that have already been granted to the President,” he wrote.

So Mr. McDonough says Congress has “a role to play,” whatever that is, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what Mr. Obama wants. And once Congress grants Mr. Obama a waiver, it can never take that away even if Congress concludes that the President is misusing it.

The larger context here is that Mr. Obama is trying to make his Iran deal a fait accompli before Congress has any say. His plan is to strike a deal and submit it to the U.N. Security Council for approval, hemming in Congress. He’ll then waive some Iran sanctions on his own, while arguing that anyone who opposes the deal wants war.

Mr. McDonough’s letter includes a long list of previous agreements that “do not require congressional approval.” But the examples he cites are either minor accords or have had substantial bipartisan support. There is no precedent in the nuclear era for a President negotiating such a major arms-control accord without Congressional assent.

Mr. Obama might have avoided this showdown with Congress if he hadn’t treated America’s elected representatives as little more than a public nuisance. His minions have disclosed more details of the Iran talks to the media than to Congress. It’s little wonder that few Members of either party trust his negotiating skill or security judgment.
Or course, who is surprised that Obama has more respect for an international organization than his own nation's legislative body?

Elaina Johnson reports that quite a few Republican insiders are taking a renewed interest in Marco Rubio. They don't want to end up with Jeb Bush as the candidate. Scott Walker had people excited for a while, but now these insiders are getting a bit wary that Walker surged to the forefront of attention before he was quite ready. And so attention is shifting now to Rubio who has impressed quite a few conservatives with the policy proposals he's put out there as well as appearances before conservative groups.

This is how Obamacare regulations look in the real world.
Here’s a question that has been puzzling Patrick Doyle, the CEO of Domino’s, for months, as he puts it: “How do we list the calorie content of our pizzas on a menu when we have 34 million different variations of pizza?” The new menu labeling law, a creation of the Affordable Care Act, could require his company to do just that.

It’s a textbook case of a mindless and arcane regulation, of Washington bureaucrats imposing on businesses costs that will have no effect on public health. “We’ve been voluntarily doing menu labeling for over a decade,” Mr. Doyle says. “We even have an online calorie calculator we call the ‘Calo-Meter’ for every possible pizza order, and it tells customers what happens if they substitute, say, sausage for mushrooms, because we strive to be very nutrition-conscious.”

That isn’t good enough for the feds. The Food and Drug Administration is now insisting that every one of the chain’s 5,000 stores post menu boards on the wall with calorie counts. “It’s crazy and it doesn’t help consumers,” Mr. Doyle says, because “90% of Domino’s orders arrive by phone or Internet and are for delivery, so fewer than one of 10 customers will ever see these signs.” The signs will cost about $2,000 at every store, and each change of menu will require new ones. That is about $10 million of extraneous costs nationwide for Domino’s. Thank you, Washington.

Dan Perry of the Associated Press has a detailed examination of the various permutations that might happen in Israel's vote this week. Reading this, it makes me more glad than ever that we have a system that limits elections to the two main parties. We might not really like either one, but there is something disturbing of some splinter party holding all the leverage to decide who has won the election. I prefer our system in which the parties have to build broad coalitions to bring as many groups as possible into their fold rather than having a separate party for each flavor of politics out there.

Paul Sperry bemoans how "progressive" discipline policies make New York's schools less safe.
Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

“Every reasonable effort must be made to correct student behavior through…restorative practices,” advises the city’s new 32-page discipline code.

Except everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Yes, other large urban school districts are reporting fewer suspensions since adopting the non-punitive approach. But that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer infractions.

In fact, many districts are seeing more classroom disruptions and violence — a national trend that ought to set off warning bells for New York school officials.

What’s more, the movement — which is driven by new race-based anti-discipline guidelines issued by the Obama administration — is creating friction between teachers unions and the liberal mayors they otherwise support.

Politicians can praise the new system, but it’s teachers who must deal with the disruptive and sometimes violent results.

And so it goes. This administration has now scrapped listing Iran and Hezbollah from a list of terrorism threats. This is linked to their efforts against ISIS as if it were impossible to support terrorists elsewhere while still fighting ISIS for control of places like Syria and Iraq.
So what's going on here? Why strip Hezbollah and its funding parent Iran, from their terrorism label? Especially now? It all points back to getting President Obama his deal with Iran at all costs. This reclassification of Iran and Hezbollah without the terrorism label is a certain warning sign the deal the White House is working on to appease the rogue regime doesn't have the best interests of the United States as a top priority.

And now we have our Secretary of State, the oblivious John Kerry, announcing the "great respect" that this administration has for the fatwas delivered by Iran's religious leaders. Doesn't he know any of the history of Iran's fatwas?
Given the history of fatwas issued by Iranian leaders in the past, Kerry's "great respect ... for the religious importance of a fatwa" seems curious. The most notorious of these fatwas was issued in 1989 and called for the death of Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses. Although various reports have surfaced over the years regarding the status of that fatwa, as recently as last month a senior Iranian cleric affirmed that it is still in effect. Other fatwas over the years have called for things as varied as the death of Jerry Falwell to prohibitions against members of the opposite sex chatting online.

Secretary Kerry's reference to the "religious importance" of Iran's purported anti-nuclear fatwa seems particularly significant given the vehemence with which Kerry and President Obama deny any connection between the Islamic State and true Islam. Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran as the White House and State Department routinely refer to it, is the most significant state sponsor of terror in the world according to the State Department and has been on the list for over 30 years. Yet the Obama administration exhibits no reticence when it comes to ascribing "religious importance" to a fatwa issued by those in Iran who claim to represent Islam.

The State Department did not reply to a request for comment on this apparent disparity.

Philip Klein puts his finger on why so many Democrats just are not excited about Hillary Clinton. In many ways, she represents just what they most oppose in politics.
In reality, Clinton's actions reflect her sense of privilege, a broader problem for her presidential ambitions than the email scandal itself.

Even before the most recent scandal, Clinton faced a number of problems in her presidential campaign.

In an age when many liberals are entranced by the populist message of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Clinton's cozy ties to Wall Street and six-figure speaking fees to corporations seem woefully out of touch.

Clinton's political career was launched based on the record and relationships of her husband. She has no accomplishments to speak of from either her time in the Senate or as Secretary of State. But her personal network has put her in the position as the overwhelming frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Jennifer Rubin daydreams about what a debate between Scott Walker and Hillary Clinton would look like.
In just about every way imaginable, Walker is the antithesis of Clinton. There is no doubt that he can run as the change candidate voters say they want. Voters now think the biggest problem is government itself. In such a circumstance, one would think voters would reject an old and old-style politician, someone who does just what the voters hate — plays by her own rules and lives the high life playing off her status and name.

There other GOP candidates who may provide bright contrasts to Clinton. In many ways, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could evoke some startling contrasts. And Walker must continue to show command of issues so that he can be a credible commander in chief. But this week we got the sense that there is no one who is quite as un-Clinton as Walker. And judging by how awfully she performed this week, being the most un-Clinton candidate has its advantages.

Jonah Goldberg has a great column about Hillary's email scandal and how it clarifies for anyone who doubted it what a Hillary Clinton presidency would be like.
One of my favorite movie clich├ęs is the bit where the old pros — and maybe one eager rookie — get together for one last job. I’m thinking of movies like The Magnificent Seven, or The Return of the Magnificent Seven, or the first five minutes of the under-appreciated Extreme Prejudice. The collection of experts at the beginning of The Andromeda Strain is a great variant of the genre and so is the whole “There’s an Animal in Trouble” theme song from the Wonderpets and the first half of The Blues Brothers. But perhaps more apt would be the hunt for, or reuniting of, veteran grifters for a long con, like in The Sting or the Ocean’s Eleven franchise.

Anyway, the ChappaDataQuitIt or E-PotDome story (okay, we’re still looking for a better nickname) reminds me of those kinds of movies. The silent whistle has been blown. The sleepers activated. The old timers have been notified. I like to imagine Lanny Davis right in the middle of a meeting with an African dictator when, suddenly, his assistant hands him a note. All it reads is “Cankles Is Down.” Lanny abruptly terminates the meeting, pushes back a briefcase full of krugerrands, and races to some hellish Third World airport, telling his aide, “Let the Redskins know they’re on their own. The Clintons need me.”

Flash to a canoe on the banks of the bayou. James Carville has just caught a catfish with his bare hands and proceeds to tear apart the wriggling fish, Gollum-like. He eats the entrails first. Then, suddenly, a flare goes off above the tree line. That’s the signal. He throws the bulk of the carcass into the river, where gators churn the water to grab it now that the apex predator has departed. He makes his way to the shoulder of a dirt road where a limousine is waiting to get him to an MSNBC studio as fast as possible. His suit and tie, neatly pressed, are waiting for him along with as many hot towels as he may need to remove the fish viscera.

David Brock slinks out of his leather onesie and races to his command center, bustling with Dorito-dust frosted 20-somethings at computer terminals. “This is a level-one-alpha scenario. Cancel all leave. Turn off all X-boxes . . .”

Sidney Blumenthal, consciously dressed like that French guy in The Matrix, leaves his table-for-one, and heads home to sacrifice some creatures to Baal in preparation. They’re all coming home....

The fact that Team Clinton is relying on the old rat squad once again is vastly more significant than most commentators have suggested. Yes, yes, it’s bad politics. A candidate looking to offer a fresh face forward, figuratively speaking, has no choice but to keep his or her own face (John Kerry notwithstanding). But she surely has plenty of options for who she picks to represent her in public. Mrs. Clinton has millions and millions of dollars at her disposal. She has people placed at the highest reaches of the government and the media. There are over 200 people working, formally or informally, for her as policy advisors already. And yet she chooses to get the old band back together instead.

Why? There are many possible answers, but the only plausible one is that a Clinton only trusts Clinton loyalists. This fits everything we know about the Clintons. And it speaks volumes about the thickness of her bubble.


But it also speaks even louder about what kind of president she would be. If you want to know what Hillary Clinton would be like as president, you’re seeing it right now. There is no other Hillary. This is her....

Hillary wants Americans to think that a Clinton Restoration will bring back the economy and global peace of the 1990s. (Leave aside the poltroonish notion that electing her would bend the universe back two decades.) So the last thing Hillary Clinton needs at this stage is to telegraph to the world that a Clinton Restoration will also restore the metaphysical tackiness that came with their rule. And yet that is exactly what she’s doing, not merely by deploying her minions but by once again donning the blouse of victimhood and exercising the same legalistic prevarications that made “parsing” a household word in the 1990s.
Goldberg then goes on to enlighten those who never knew or have forgotten how to listen to a Clinton speak.
Oh, one quick point about that press conference, and really all statements by the Clintons. This is really just a tip for the young’ns who didn’t live through the Clinton era. When listening to a Clinton, the trick is to listen to what they’re not saying. Bill Clinton is, naturally, the master of such things. Listening to him tell the truth is like listening to one hand clapping. Hillary has no natural gifts for lying, but she has studied at the feet of the master for most of her adult life. The result is that she can play the notes well enough, but she can’t quite find the magic in the music.

So at her press conference this week, she said, “I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material.”

She doesn’t say whether she received any classified material. She then says, “There is no classified material.” As A. B. Stoddard noted on Special Report last night, “is” is the Clinton’s favorite verb. Bill breathed new life into it and she’s keeping the flame alive....

But, as Jack Shafer notes, what Hillary really means when she says she didn’t “keep” the e-mails is, “I ordered my staff to delete the e-mails.” If you say “didn’t keep,” it sounds innocent. If you say, “I destroyed them,” it sounds Nixonian.

Also left out is the manner in which she erased them. She makes it sound like it was all junk about yoga routines and wedding planning. But even she doesn’t know that. Clinton’s team did keyword searches for official e-mails, culled those out of the pile, and then simply destroyed the rest. Such searches, I am told, do not search file attachments. This is the electronic-records equivalent of grabbing your “official” payroll records and then pouring gasoline on all of your off-book records and throwing a match on the floor as you walk out.
He concludes with a short dissertation on why it is so silly for people to vote for Hillary just because she fits a box - woman - that people would like to check off as America having finally gotten around to electing.
What Hillary Clinton is trying to do is to make these questions synonymous. If you’re against having Hillary Clinton as president, you’re against having a woman president. It was a game that Barack Obama played with some sophistication. The “Ready for Hillary” crowd is about as subtle as a case of the clap.

Which brings me back to where I started. The thrill of having a woman president — even if you’re the kind of person who gets thrilled by such things — will be temporary, at least for most of us. The tedious, grating ache, that another President Clinton would generate will last a lot longer. Hillary Clinton wants people to think voting for her will deliver something new, fresh, and exciting. What this utterly typical PR fiasco shows is that what they’ll actually get is familiar, tired, pathetic, dishonest, and embarrassing.