Monday, April 20, 2015

Cruising the Web

Jeff Jacoby states, correctly, that the problem with Iran is not that they lie, but that they come right out and tell us what their goals are.
ran has repeatedly flouted UN Security Council resolutions ordering it to suspend all enrichment-related activities. Even now, reports the IAEA, Tehran refuses to answer questions about the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear activities.

With such a track record, it’s logical that Iran’s commitments are so widely regarded as worthless. No piece of paper signed in Switzerland will take the ayatollahs’ eyes off the nuclear prize they have so long pursued, by means mostly foul. And of what value is any agreement if one of the signatories can’t be trusted not to cheat?

Yet what makes the framework nuclear deal so grotesque and dangerous isn’t Iran’s trail of deception. The real reason to block any nuclear accord with Tehran’s rulers isn’t that they always lie. It’s that they don’t.

Maybe Iran would cheat on the loophole-ridden deal being promoted by the Obama administration. But it wouldn’t have to. Even President Obama admits Iran could abide by the terms agreed to and just wait for them to run out in a little more than a decade. “At that point, the breakout times [to nuclear weapons capability] would have shrunk almost down to zero,” the president told NPR. Cheat or don’t cheat, the end is the same: The Lausanne deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb either way.

And then it will be clear — apocalyptically clear — that the ayatollahs were telling the truth.

They were telling the truth last November, when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards proclaimed “the US is still the great Satan and the number one enemy of the [Islamic] revolution and the Islamic Republic.”

They were telling the truth in February, when Ali Shirazi, a senior Iranian cleric and aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that his troops are in a global war that will bring “the banner of Islam over the White House.”

They were telling the truth a decade ago when Hassan Abassi, a high-ranking intelligence operative, warned that Iranian agents had identified “29 sensitive sites in the West, with the aim of bombing them.”

They were telling the truth when a commander of Iranian forces insisted “America has no other choice but to leave the Middle East region beaten and humiliated.” And when Iran’s supreme leader raged that “there is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state.” And when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserted that “a world without America is not only desirable, it is achievable.”

And when, over and over, they have incited crowds in chants of “Death to America.”

Tehran’s rulers may have lied for years about their nuclear activities; their negotiated commitments to suspend enrichment and submit to inspections may not be worth the ink they sign them with.

But the mullahs don’t lie about what matters to them most: death to America, the extermination of Israel, unrelenting global jihad. They say they are deadly serious.
It reminds me of how Adolph Hitler clearly laid out his racist and imperialist agenda in Mein Kampf in the 1920s and so many in the West ignored it. Winston Churchill didn't ignore it because, unlike many of his contemporaries, he actually read the book.

The New York Times previews the book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer which is set to come out May 5 and, as the Times says, carefully uses documented sources to look at how the Clintons have become multi-millionaires in the years since they left the White House.
The book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, asserts that foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.
“We will see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds,” Mr. Schweizer writes.

His examples include a free­trade agreement in Colombia that benefited a major foundation donor’s natural resource investments in the South American nation, development projects in the aftermath of the Haitian
earthquake in 2010, and more than $1 million in payments to Mr. Clinton by a Canadian bank and major shareholder in the Keystone XL oil pipeline around the time the project was being debated in the State Department.
Of course, the Clinton machine will try to discredit the book as being part of the vast right wing conspiracy, but the NYT is not so sure that such attacks will work.
He writes mainly in the voice of a neutral journalist and meticulously documents his sources, including tax records and government documents, while leaving little doubt about his view of the Clintons.

His reporting largely focuses on payments made to Mr. Clinton for speeches, which increased while his wife served as secretary of state, writing that “of the 13 Clinton speeches that fetched $500,000 or more, only two
occurred during the years his wife was not secretary of state.”

In 2011, Mr. Clinton made $13.3 million in speaking fees for 54 speeches, the majority of which were made overseas, the author writes.
Hey, but why should that matter when Democrats can all scream and yell about the Koch brothers?

The Clintonistas will point out that Schweizer has contributed to Breitbart News, a conservative site, but that isn't the only news organization he has contributed to and which has used his findings. Breitbart points to those MSM credentials.
Publishing giant HarperCollins said in a press release that the book represents the culmination of a one-year deep dive investigation by Schweizer’s GAI investigative unit. The GAI, which has quickly established itself as one of the nation’s most respected—and feared—Washington watchdog organizations, has gained notoriety for vigorously investigating both Republicans and Democrats, as well as releasing its investigative findings through major national mainstream media partners, such as CBS News’ 60 Minutes, New York Times, Politico, ABC News, and Fox News.

Indeed, GAI and Schweizer have already left their investigative mark on Capitol Hill. Schweizer, whom Newsweek dubbed “The Wonk Who Slays Washington,” was responsible for the ouster of former Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), then-chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, after his book, Throw Them All Out, exposed insider trading by members of Congress.

The driving force behind the only significant bipartisan reform legislation to pass during the Obama presidency—the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act—Schweizer is, as David Weigel (then of Slate) put it, the “author of the book that started the STOCK Act stampede.” Schweizer partnered with veteran CBS News 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft for an insider trading report based on the book that resulted in CBS winning the coveted Joan Shorenstein Barone Award for excellence in Washington-based reporting on congressional political affairs.

Former Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) also knows the sting of a Schweizer book investigation. In October 2013, Schweizer once again partnered with CBS 60 Minutes and Steve Kroft to report the revelations of his book, Extortion, which exposed how Republicans and Democrats use leadership PAC “slush funds” to bankroll lavish lifestyles. The Sunday before the book’s release, CBS 60 Minutes did a story titled “Washington’s Open Secret” based on Schweizer’s book revelations that led to Andrews’ resignation from Congress.(links in original)
We'll have to see if Sixty Minutes will again partner up with Schweizer to give his findings more attention. The thought that the sort of findings that Harper Collins is highlighting in its press release for the book must be giving the Clinton campaign operatives conniptions.
For example—Clinton Cash reveals how Clinton friends scored major deals during the Haitian reconstruction, which was largely overseen by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Clinton family members also scored big in Haiti. In 2012, the Haitian government gave away rare open-pit gold mining grants (called “gold mining exploitation permits” which hadn’t been issued in over 50 years) to two companies. One of them is a tiny North Carolina start-up called VCS mining. Who sits on the VCS board? Hillary’s brother Tony Rodham.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg—Clinton friends and associates can be found to have obtained similar permits in Kazakhstan, and others countries. Clinton Cash will detail these questionable deals and so much more.
Editor Adam Bellow comments, “Bestselling author Peter Schweizer coins a new term to describe the unique way in which Bill and Hillary tend to mingle their political, personal and philanthropic interests: the Clinton Blur. Schweizer’s scrupulously sourced and exhaustively researched book raises serious questions about the sources of the Clintons’ sudden wealth, their ethical judgment, and Hillary’s fitness for high public office.”
Sure, Clinton's defenders will try to fight back using their standard ad hominem attacks on the author, but they will still have to address the facts alleged in the book. We've seen that facts don't have to prevent the Clintons from attracting wide public support, but there is a difference between the public supporting a sitting president and a public deciding to ignore the increasing number of stories depicting the continuing sleaze that is such a part of the Clinton experience.

Matt Vespa points out that Wall Street supporters of Hillary Clinton, as they told Politico, are fine with her bashing them because they know that she doesn't really mean it.
Hillary Clinton sounded like a woman on a mission after her long drive into the heartland: “There’s something wrong,” she told Iowans on Tuesday, when “hedge fund managers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days.”
But back in Manhattan, the hedge fund managers who’ve long been part of her political and fundraising networks aren’t sweating the putdown and aren’t worrying about their take-home pay just yet.

It’s “just politics,” said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street, explaining that some of Clinton’s Wall Street supporters doubt she would push hard for closing the carried-interest loophole as president, a policy she promoted when she last ran in 2008.
“The question is not going to be whether or not hedge fund managers or CEOs make too much money,” said a separate Clinton supporter who manages a hedge fund. “The question is, how do you solve the problem of inequality. Nobody takes it like she is going after them personally.”

Indeed, many of the financial-sector donors supporting her just-declared presidential campaign say they’ve been expecting all along the moment when Clinton would start calling out hedge fund managers and decrying executive pay — right down to the complaints from critics that such arguments are rich coming from someone who recently made north of $200,000 per speech and who has been close to Wall Street since her days representing it as a senator from New York.
Hypocrisy is baked into the cake with the Clintons.

And now Newsweek has the story of how one of the biggest donors to the Clinton Foundation has been trading with Iran, possibly in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Enemies of Hillary Clinton waiting to discredit her bid for the White House are likely to seize on news that one of the biggest benefactors to the Clinton Foundation has been trading with Iran and may be in breach of US sanctions imposed on the country.

Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, 54, has courted the Clintons for at least nine years – in the United States, the Alps and Ukraine.

Earlier this year, he was confirmed as the largest individual contributor to the Clinton Foundation, whose aims include the creation of “economic opportunity and growth”. He also has links to the Tony Blair Foundation and represented its biggest single donor in 2013.

The fourth richest man in Ukraine, Pinchuk owns Interpipe Group, a Cyprus-incorporated manufacturer of seamless pipes used in oil and gas sectors.

Newsweek has seen declarations and documents from Ukraine that show a series of shipments from Interpipe to Iran in 2011 and 2012, including railway parts and products commonly used in the oil and gas sectors.
So Newsweek's lede is that Clinton's enemies might use this information to discredit her? Shouldn't the lede simply be the rest of that sentence? Wouldn't anyone be uncomfortable with such a connection to the Clinton Foundation? Or is it only Republicans who care about such conflicts of interest? And is it a coincidence that Hillary Clinton's State Department didn't impose any penalty on Pinchuk for his violation of sanctions on trade with Iran? This is so typical of how the media portray damaging stories about Democrats as simply being fodder for unending partisan attacks.

Ed Morrissey reminds us of other suspect connections between the Clinton Foundation and foreign entities who had business that could have been hurt if the State Department had not been in such friendly hands.

Jonathan Allen looks at why the Clinton Foundation is not the unalloyed positive that the Clintons perhaps think their charitable efforts should engender. Of course, it's all framed as what Republicans say about the Foundation.
But the Clintons' critics see it as proof of the fundamental corruption that follows two lifelong politicians. The foundation rakes in money from wealthy individuals, corporations, and even foreign countries, many of which have business before a federal government that Hillary Clinton wants to run. Because they're giving money to a charity, the contributions have a "cleaner" feel to them than campaign checks. But they're a form of access to the Clintons all the same. Oh, and all that money pays for the creature comforts of the Clintons and their inner circle.

"They try to pretend they're something they're not," said one Republican aide on Capitol Hill, who accused Hillary Clinton of engaging in "faux populism" in her early days on the campaign trail. "They're surrounded by special interests."
Add in these stories about foreign donors to the Foundation, particularly from such unsavory sources.
In contrast to CGI, the parent foundation takes direct contributions and spends it on overhead and programs. There are seven donors who have given $25 million or more since the foundation's inception, according to its disclosures. That set includes longtime Clinton political giver Fred Eychaner. Haim Saban, another big Clinton fundraiser, has given between $10 million and $25 million over the years. He has said he'll spend whatever it takes to make Hillary Clinton president. Kuwait and the Coca-Cola Foundation are among the entities that have given between $5 million and $10 million.

There's a tendency to underestimate the significant differences between campaign contributions and donations to charities run by politicians. First, even in the Super PAC era, checks to campaigns are sharply limited, while charities can accept unlimited contributions. It's hard to write a head-turning check to a campaign. Second, charities enjoy a patina of holiness that campaigns do not. Better for someone seeking access or favor to give a big check to the Clinton Foundation than a small one to the Clinton campaign. The hybrid is a big donation to a Super PAC supporting Clinton. Plenty of folks will give those, too.

Critics of the Clinton Foundation portray it as an ingenious backroom pay-to-play scheme obscured by the mom-and-apple-pie work going on at the front desk. One concern is that US individuals and corporations gain access to the Clintons, curry favor with them, and use their affiliation with the former first couple to launder their brands. They've collected money from folks who turned out to be pretty unsavory, including Jeffrey Epstein. In return, the Clintons get money for projects that help the underprivileged, burnish their own brands, and continue to build their political network.
Of course, most Democrats will hold their noses and still vote for Hillary. But will swing voters be so inclined to give her a pass as they're reminded of the Clintons' unsavory history of trading access for donations.

Here's a message for Hillary from a Pakistani-born women's rights activists.
"This week, Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President," said Raza in a statement. "As a woman, I congratulate her, but as a women’s rights advocate, I’m concerned about the $13,000,000-$40,000,000 the Clinton Foundation reportedly took from regimes that persecute women, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the UAE."

Raza's pledge is not limited to presidential campaigns, asking candidates to promise to "never take money from regimes that oppress women, even after I leave public office, including any libraries or foundations in my name.”

"If you’re running for President—and if you want women’s votes—you should sign ‘The Pledge to Women’ and say ‘no’ to money from regimes that forbid women to vote or run for office,” said Raza.

The Clintons' foundation has said that it will continue to accept donations from a specific set of Western nations, though not from the Middle Eastern regimes that persecute women. The related Clinton Global Initative may, however, still allow participation from those regimes, the Wall Street Journal reports.
It's rather difficult to pose as the only true women's candidate when she has taken money from such regimes.

Scott Rasmussen lays out his five keys for understanding the election in 2016.
1) It’s all about personal finances—Some believe it’s about the economy, which is a close substitute. But what really matters is how people feel about their own personal finances. If people are feeling much better about their own finances in a year, that would be good news for the Democratic nominee. If things stay the same or get worse, it’s bad news for the president’s party.

2) President Obama’s Job Approval—The president gets better ratings today than he did during the mid-term elections, but is still in dangerously low territory. If it doesn’t improve, the GOP will be favored to win the White House. If it goes back down, there may be no hope for the Democratic nominee.

3) The Big Blue Wall is a Myth—Democrats argue that all they have to do is win states that consistently voted for their party since 1992 and they just about have the Electoral College locked up. The problem with this theory is that it's the result of the Republicans winning a majority of the popular vote only once in the past six elections. If a Republican does better in the popular vote, he or she will win some of those states Democrats think they have locked up.

4) Demographics are a side story--Lots of armchair analysts advance their cause with demographic claims. In the wake of Clinton’s announcement, for example, many have noted that she might do better than President Obama among women. But, if that’s true, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that she might do worse among men. Or that black turnout may be down or Latinos less hostile to the GOP. The larger trends based upon personal finances and perceptions of President Obama are far more important.

5) Tech Entrepreneurs Are the Real Source of Hope and Change—While partisans believe that the world will end if their team doesn’t win, the truth is that politics is not the way that change takes place in America. The culture comes first and politics lags behind. The advances coming from Silicon Valley have a far bigger impact on the nation than anything the next president will do.

While Hillary clinton had few accomplishments as Secretary of State, she did take the leadership on one foreign policy initiative - American efforts to bring down Moammar Gadhafi. Remember her laughing and triumphal cry - "We came, we saw, he died." As Michael Brendan Dougherty points out, we did indeed bring about Gadhafi's death, but otherwise the policy has been a major fiasco.
Death and civil war in Libya were unacceptable outcomes for America when Moammar Gadhafi was alive. But death and civil war continue unabated, the difference being that the Islamic State is now one of the players — and somehow it's not in the American interest to stop it or to help Libyans establish some kind of law and order. The lessons of Iraq have been internalized: Once you create a total power vacuum that will attract terror gangs and radical Islamic fundamentalists, it's best to not have any boots on the ground to stop them.

Clinton's chapter on Libya ends on exactly this note, disavowing any responsibility for death and destruction from here on out....

Libya now has multiple "governments" that draw massive amounts of the nation's resource wealth to themselves, creating an endless amount of make-work and no-show jobs to secure the loyalties of their clients. Libya is essentially functioning as a Mediterranean gas station, the purpose of which is to provide enough revenue to perpetuate a civil war to determine the gas station's ownership.

As per usual in this region, Sunni radicals are moving in to the power vacuum. Libya now has clerical thugs like Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani issuing fatwas against women's rights. Perceived agents of "foreign" influence, many of them workers brought in by the Gadhafi regime, are being expelled or oppressed in popular uprisings. All in all, civil war tends to be a loser for minorities, women, and children.

Juan Cole argued last month that Libya is "messy" but has an "open future." One upside of the Libyan war is that it has revealed that formerly sharp critics of George W. Bush's foreign policy, like Cole, can be just as glib as the people they hated a decade ago. Yes, Libya's future is wide open, just as a mass grave is.

Meanwhile, back home, one of the prime architects of this chaos gets the flattery of being chased by the national press, in a van that's been named after a 1970s cartoon. There are no consequences for the woman who could be the next leader of the free world. Those are reserved for well-meaning transitional leaders and their constituents.
Too often discussion of Clinton's policy choices in Libya bog down in the minutaie of what happened in Benghazi and how the Obama administration and Hillary deceived the American people about actually happened. But there is enough to criticize Hillary on the broader policy and results. And the results should make everyone question her policy choices.

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The Obama administration and its appointees on the NLRB is doing all it can to limit corporate speech in the workplace. It isn't enough that they tried to limit corporate speech as far as political campaigns, but their real efforts have gone towards limiting the ability of companies to talk to their employees, all as part of their campaign to help unions.
Thus, employers today can be held liable for announcing raises during a union campaign, despite the obvious benefit to employees. Employers must also be careful when predicting the potential costs associated with unions, lest those statements be treated as implied threats to punish employees if they unionize. As a result, employees are less informed about their choices, and unions have a convenient cudgel to use at the bargaining table: They can threaten legal action based on perceived threats or incentives from employers.

The Constitution does not give unions such special protections from the marketplace of ideas. And those concerned with a “corporate takeover” of the First Amendment should recall that Citizens United protected the speech of unions and corporations alike. The same cannot be said for the NLRB, where companies are uniquely disfavored and unions are singled out for special treatment—to the detriment of the employees they purport to represent.

So now Deval Patrick is off to work at Bain Capital as Democrats and the media decide Bain isn't as evil as they'd portrayed it when Mitt Romney was running for office.

For lovers of political history such as myself, Michael Barone provides a nice primer on the rise of political conventions and the history of primaries in our political nomination battles. The result has been our overlong, practically permanent campaigns.
So what can be done to make the permanent campaign less permanent? Proposals for a quick national primary or sets of primaries are going nowhere. Previous rules changes tended to lengthen the process. The attempt by the GOP’s Mr. Priebus to compress the calendar—by confining the first four contests to February, limiting debates and holding the Republican convention in July—is a small step in shortening it. If state parties and legislatures cooperate, as seems likely but not certain, the Iowa caucus won't be held, as in 2008 and 2012, on the ninth day of Christmas.

But the prize is too great, the competition too intense (well, maybe not among Democrats this cycle), and the nation and the parties too large and diverse for the process to be substantially abbreviated. Candidates will start early, whatever the law says.

And a long campaign does test candidates’ skill and endurance—and give millions of people a chance to participate. Maybe it’s worth taking an unpleasantly long time to choose the person to fill an office whose dimensions were designed for George Washington.