Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cruising the Web

Jonah Goldberg notes the "inconvenient truth" of the Tom Cotton letter.
It has been an Iranian tradition since 1979 to end Friday prayers with chants of “Death to America!”

In a purely rational world, that would be all one needed to know that Iran is not a reliable negotiating partner. Alas, we do not live in such a world. But there’s more evidence. Iran, according to our State Department, has been the chief exporter of terrorism for the last three decades. It has worked closely with al-Qaeda, facilitating its attacks on America and our allies. Most of the September 11 hijackers traveled through Iran with the help of the Iranian government. U.S. judges have ruled that Iran was an accomplice in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa and the September 11 attacks. During the Iraq War, Iran was responsible for numerous American deaths.

And it’s not like any of this is ancient history. Indeed, in 2012, the Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security as a major promoter of terrorism and violator of human rights.

Right now, via its brutal proxies, Iran is manipulating events on the ground in four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and Sanaa. Whatever success there has been against the Islamic State in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit has been thanks to Iranian advisors operating in Iraq and the Shiite Muslim militias they control. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, retired admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he fears Iran more than Islamic State.

So, obviously, the greatest villain in the world today is . . . Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.). He led the effort to get 46 other senators to sign a letter to the Iranian government explaining that any deal with Iran would require congressional approval....

Now, I should say that I think the senators made a mistake. They should have written an open letter to President Obama. The Iranians would still have gotten the message, but the White House and the punditocracy would have found it more difficult to rationalize their insane hissy fit. And contrary to countless outlets reporting that the Republicans “sent” this letter to the ayatollahs, they didn’t send it anywhere. It was posted on Cotton’s website.

The more important point here is that no one disagrees with the content of the letter because it is accurate. The White House had to admit that Cotton was right; the deal as it stands would be a “non-binding” agreement. And, therefore, as the letter explains, “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen.”

(In fact, Obama did pretty much exactly that with an agreement struck between Israel and the United States about settlement growth in Palestinian territories.)

This premature admission is politically inconvenient for the Obama administration because it wants to get the United Nations to approve the deal, making it a fait accompli. It hoped to get to that point without anyone noticing.

The Cotton letter is not mutinous or traitorous or unconstitutional. It is inconvenient, and apparently being inconvenient in the age of Obama is all it takes to be called unpatriotic.

Congratulations to Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party which surprised practically everyone by winning a victory of around 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset after polls had shown Likud losing just a few days ago and the exit polls had shown the election too close to call. I guess that Jonathan S. Tobin was right that Israeli polls tend to undercount the right and that exit polls don't include the military which tend to lean right.

John Podhoretz looks at the scope of Netanyahu's risky gamble. Remember that this was not a scheduled election, but one that Netanyahu himself called.
When it comes to elections, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is the political equivalent of a scrambling quarterback. During the three-month election campaign that ended Tuesday night, the prime minister fell 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage before evading a savage blitz, escaped a catastrophic sack, then, at the last moment, turned upfield, crossed the line of scrimmage and galloped ahead for a huge gain.

Although Netanyahu’s Likud Party only won about half the number of seats needed to secure a majority in Israel’s parliament, it did so much better than anyone expected (including Bibi) that he seems to have triumphed in the goal he had set for himself last December when he broke up the government he had formed in 2013 and called new elections.

He did that because he wanted to strengthen his own hand and rid himself of two hostile coalition partners at the same time. This was a risky strategy, and it looked for quite a while like a disastrous one.
Now Netanyahu will have a strengthened position in the Knesset and will be able to form a more favorable coalition.
Bibi’s path to forming a new government is clear and should be relatively easy, especially compared to last time.

He gambled his entire career and he won, just as he did with the speech in front of Congress earlier this month.

The three-month election process was heart-stopping and melodramatic, like an old “Batman” episode from the 1960s without the camp — including the startling role played by Special Guest Villain Barack Obama doing everything in his power to take down the man he seems to have chosen as his Enemy No. 1.

The president (or his team) shipped close campaign aides to Israel to help Bibi’s opponents, and one State Department-funded group helped coordinate the line of attack.
The strategists going after him figured out that the key to the election was to stimulate what might be called “Bibi exhaustion” in the electorate. Their approach was to remind centrist voters of Bibi’s failure to do anything about the nation’s spiraling cost-of-living crisis, which had helped bring hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets in mass protests in 2011.

It worked. A bit. The Zionist Union won something like 24 seats, an improvement for its core Labor Party from 15 seats just two years ago. But the thing is, Israel’s left doesn’t have any answers to the nation’s pressing problems either — and is seen as too ready to capitulate on hard-core defense and security issues.

So, in the final days of the election, trapped in his own backfield, the Zionist Union coming hard upon him as Obama and his minions cheered from the skyboxes, Bibi eluded its grasp and made his move. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Bibi pulled off a pretty spectacular piece of footwork in the most exciting election finish I can remember.

Here in the U.S. we have tended to see the Israeli election as a referendum on Netanyahu's strong stand against Iran. Mario Loyola argues that opposition to Iran is not a partisan issue in Israel.
With the Islamist tide rising, and Iran everywhere in the ascendant and on the verge of being allowed to keep its nuclear weapons program, the years ahead will be dangerous ones for Israel. In these circumstances, Israeli foreign policy has become largely de-politicized. Nearly 90 percent of Israelis — basically the entire Jewish population of Israel​ — supported the fearsome pummeling Netanyahu gave Hamas last summer. A recent poll shows that more than 70 percent of Israelis oppose Obama’s looming surrender to Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. And while Israelis may aspire to a future of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, that vision while have to wait for another era. The results of the Clinton era “peace process” (namely the Al-Aqsa intifada of 2000–2003) and of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal (namely the rise of Hamas) have demonstrated plain as day that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank now would be suicide.

In that sense, the Israeli elections are important chiefly inside Israel, for domestic Israeli issues. Almost no national-security issue is likely to be much affected by the outcome of these elections. To be sure, as Eli Lake and Josh Rogin point out, a Labor victory would have put Obama in a delicate position. Unlike the 1990s, Labor’s position on national-security issues is almost indistinguishable from the Israeli right wing, but Obama can’t afford to treat Labor the way he has treated Netanyahu. Beyond that, the shape of the next government could affect Israel’s foreign relations: A national-unity government will have stronger footing for a robust foreign policy, whereas a fragile coalition will be more crimped.

Remember how, in the 1980s Russian dissidents would pass the words of Ronald Reagan among themselves while living in the gulags? Here is the memory of Natan Sharansky.
I was already a longtime prisoner when Ronald Reagan was elected. I didn't know much about him, and I can't say I remember having heard much about him. None of us in the Gulag knew much, and I actually knew less than most because I spent so much time in private punishment cells, where for months at a time you were totally isolated. Our first indication that Ronald Reagan might well be the key figure in our struggle, the struggle of all people fighting against tyranny, came from the ferocious denunciations of him that appeared more frequently in the official Soviet press. Now, all Soviets were experts in the art of "reading between the lines," and of course us dissidents, we were the professors of this high art form. In fact, we were so good at reading between the lines, we almost could piece together events as they really happened by what the authorities were not telling us. What they did not tell us was as important as what they did tell us, if not even more important.

We had very mixed feelings at first. Remember, we accepted it as a given that Jimmy Carter was the world's great human rights advocate. Only later, after we saw what words without action can mean, did it occur to us that words were all he could offer. But to his credit, it was Jimmy Carter who insisted on keeping the issue in the international spotlight. Remember, prior to him, no one seemed willing to offer even words. All we knew about Reagan was that he was a poorly regarded actor, and after living for so long in an Orwellian world where play-acting was all we ever experienced from our own leaders, the very fact that Reagan was an actor, I will say, left us far more concerned than encouraged at first.

Q: Were there any particular Reagan moments that you can recall being sources of strength or encouragement to you and your colleagues?

I have to laugh. People who take freedom for granted, Ronald Reagan for granted, always ask such questions. Of course! It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War. This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell's Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the Soviet Union.

It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it. For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin's "Great October Bolshevik Revolution" and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution--Reagan's Revolution.

We were all in and out of punishment cells so often--me more than most--that we developed our own tapping language to communicate with each other between the walls. A secret code. We had to develop new communication methods to pass on this great, impossible news. We even used the toilets to tap on.
Well, we've come a long way from that today.
A group of Iranian dissidents and political prisoners have lashed out at the Obama administration, lambasting its ongoing diplomacy with Iran, according to two open letters sent to the White House in recent days.

As Tehran and the United States move closer to a final deal aimed at stalling Iran’s nuclear breakout time at around one year, opponents are stepping forward to register their skepticism and anger over the agreement, which they say does little to address the Islamic Republic’s poor human rights record.

In each letter, the dissidents—most of whom are currently political prisoners in Iran—criticize the White House for ignoring the issues of human rights and democracy in Iran as they push to finalize a deal with a regime that the dissidents says is murderous and untrustworthy.

Iranian reformers and those seeking a change in the country’s leadership say they do not view the agreement as representing the plurality of Iranians.

“Any deal in which the real representatives of Iranian people are not present and human rights are ignored, is basically a deal between President Obama and Khamenei’s agents, and Iranian people will not consider it to be legal,” 21 Iranian political prisoners wrote in an open letter to Obama that was translated from Persian for the Washington Free Beacon.
Think of both the physical and moral courage it takes to sign on to such a letter while a political prisoner. What a shameful moment in our nation's foreign policy.

Joe Lieberman explains why Congress should get a vote on Obama's Iran deal.
The Obama administration instead intends to treat an Iran deal like a status of forces agreement, known as a SOFA, which spells out rules for U.S. soldiers deployed in a foreign country. These are typically nonbinding executive agreements that do not involve a congressional vote.

But the analogy is flawed. Unlike SOFAs, which tend to be administrative and technical in nature, a nuclear deal with Iran would represent a historic and highly controversial strategic commitment—precisely the kind of national decision in which congressional involvement is most warranted.

Congress should also review an Iran agreement because of the unusually extensive and direct role it has already played in formulating exactly those policies that a nuclear deal would alter and undo. Congress in 2010 designed and passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, which sought to punish companies and individuals that did business with Iran’s petroleum sector. Legislation in 2012 added further restrictions.

The essence of any deal would relieve the Iranians from such sanctions in exchange for certain restrictions on their nuclear activities. The sanctions under negotiation, however, are overwhelmingly the creation of Congress—put in law through bills passed by large bipartisan majorities. Given that Congress built the sanctions against Iran, it is unreasonable to bar it from any review or oversight in how that architecture is disassembled.

Finally, what about the argument that Tehran would object to congressional review, thus making an agreement more difficult to reach? This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

If presidents of both parties during the Cold War could submit sensitive nuclear-arms-control agreements negotiated with the Soviet Union to Congress for two-thirds ratification—when atomic doomsday loomed—surely the same can be done today. While congressional review might be unpalatable to the Iranians, as it surely was to the Soviets, we should not ignore our Constitution or suspend our best democratic practices to win agreements with our adversaries.

The great political scientist Edward Corwin observed more than half a century ago that the Constitution is “an invitation to struggle for the privilege of directing American foreign policy.” It is exactly this struggle between Congress and the president—which is almost as old as our republic—playing out now over a possible agreement with Iran, reflecting the divided and often overlapping lines of responsibility for foreign policy that our Founders assigned to Congress and the president.

Presidents are rarely enthusiastic when Congress asserts itself in foreign policy. But our most successful leaders have recognized the need to win the support, or at least acquiescence, of Capitol Hill for their most ambitious national-security initiatives, because that is one of the best ways to ensure the support of the American people and to make it more likely those initiatives will endure.
Of course, we know that the Democratic Party has long since stopped listening to Joe Lieberman, but they'd have a hard time disagreeing with him if the party of the president were Republican.

Good riddance to Aaron Schock. He's resigned and let that be a lesson to all our representatives that being elected to Congress does not give you access to a piggy bank for your personal use.

James Bruno explains how Obama's Cuba deal is strengthening Cuba's military.

Kathleen Parker ponders why Hillary put herself in this position by deciding to use her own server.
Even though the foundation largely stopped taking money from foreign governments while Hillary was secretary of state, donations were still accepted from individuals and companies. One was a $2 million pledge from Chinese billionaire-philanthropist Wang Wenliang, a delegate to China’s parliament and owner of Rilin Enterprises, a construction conglomerate that has lobbied Congress and the State Department.

We may not see a viral video of Wang using Lincoln’s bed as a trampoline should the Clintons reclaim the White House. But there can be little doubt that when individuals and institutions give money to the foundation, their motives aren’t strictly altruistic. They’re, of course, currying favor with an influential former president and quite possibly a future one.

The rub for anyone who had hoped for more from Hillary-the-Inevitable is that none of this would have happened had she simply used the government-issued phone (or server) for state business and used her personal account for everything else. No scandal, no media scramble, no congressional probes. The foundation and her personal life would have been off-limits. Case closed.

Instead, the media and Hillary are locked once again into a folie à deux (shared madness). It’s a familiar template, which, though we pretend to loathe the reiteration, lends its own strange comfort. You almost wonder whether Hillary Clinton, ever the victim, couldn’t resist placing herself in troubled waters yet again.

Hating the media — perhaps Clinton’s fatal flaw — is the love affair she just can’t quit.

When a Democratic president has lost Lawrence Tribe, you know he's gone off the rails.
As President Obama forges ahead in his fight against climate change, a leading Harvard Law School scholar says a central piece of the president’s strategy is akin to “burning the Constitution” merely to advance an environmental agenda.

In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence H. Tribe said the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants is built on a shaky legal foundation. The proposal, Mr. Tribe argues, far exceeds EPA’s authority under federal law and strikes a blow to the 10th Amendment by essentially making states subservient to Washington on energy and environmental matters.

Mr. Tribe’s testimony — with which other legal scholars strongly disagreed during Tuesday’s hearing — comes about a month before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in a case that challenges EPA’s so-called “Clean Power Plan,” which would limit pollution from both new and existing power plants and is designed to reduce coal use across the country.

Critics long have argued the proposal, which will be finalized this summer, would cost thousands of jobs and drive up electricity prices for consumers. But Mr. Tribe and others believe there are deeper problems with the looming regulations.

“EPA’s proposal raises grave constitutional questions, exceeds EPA’s statutory authority and violates the Clean Air Act,” said Mr. Tribe, who has argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times and represented Al Gore in the case that ultimately decided the 2000 presidential election.

Well, this is just typical.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants hotels to monitor how much time its guests spend in the shower.

The agency is spending $15,000 to create a wireless system that will track how much water a hotel guest uses to get them to “modify their behavior.”

“Hotels consume a significant amount of water in the U.S. and around the world,” an EPA grant to the University of Tulsa reads. “Most hotels do not monitor individual guest water usage and as a result, millions of gallons of potable water are wasted every year by hotel guests.”

“The proposed work aims to develop a novel low cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers,” it said. “This device will be designed to fit most new and existing hotel shower fixtures and will wirelessly transmit hotel guest water usage data to a central hotel accounting system.”

The funding is going toward creating a prototype and market analysis for the device. The goal of the project is to change the behavior of Americans when they stay at hotels.

“This technology will provide hotel guests with the ability to monitor their daily water online or using a smartphone app and will assist hotel guest in modifying their behavior to help conserve water,” the grant said.
How many hotel guests are going to spend time going online or using an app to check their water usage?