Friday, April 24, 2015

Cruising the Web

In my A.P. Government and Politics class, one of the themes that comes up throughout the year is whether political parties are becoming weaker, particularly in their ability to control who the nominee of the party will be whether for president or other down-ballot positions. If parties still decided things in back room deals, the Democrats would have chosen Hillary in 2008 without those pesky primaries. And disastrous candidates like Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, or Christine O'Donnell would never have seen the light of day. So think of the Democratic Party today. They have their desired candidate - Hillary Clinton. There are no other candidates of note to cloud things and steal the limelight from the Chosen One. Things seemed to be proceeding apace until Hillary ran into the weaknesses of Hillary's lack of political skills. And now the scandals are piling up.

The real bombshell emerges from Peter Schweizer's upcoming book, Clinton Cash. In a clever marketing decision, the author has paired up with not only Fox News, but the Washington Post and New York Times. So when stories like yesterday's New York Times story about how a Canadian fat cat gave millions to the Clinton Foundation just as his company arranged a deal while Clinton was secretary of state to sell uranium from Wyoming mines to Russia and that a Russian investment bank behind the deal gave Bill Clint a half million dollars for one speech in Moscow.
At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the Canadian mining industry, who have been major donors to the charitable endeavors of former President Bill Clinton and his family. Members of that group built, financed and eventually sold off to the Russians a company that would become known as Uranium One.

Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.

And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.

At the time, both Rosatom and the United States government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company’s assets to the Russians. Those promises have been repeatedly broken, records show.
The Clinton camp can only make this weak denial.
In a statement, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, said no one “has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation.” He emphasized that multiple United States agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed off on the deal and that, in general, such matters were handled at a level below the secretary. “To suggest the State Department, under then-Secretary Clinton, exerted undue influence in the U.S. government’s review of the sale of Uranium One is utterly baseless,” he added.
Well, of course there is no evidence. People of the Clintons' experience don't spell out their quid pro quo deals in documents or in front of cameras. And hey, her emails have been erased so isn't that just sooo inconvenient?

The fact that the Clintons would have those sorts of associations and Bill would jetting off to rake in the dough giving a speech in Kazakhstan betrays the arrogance that has characterized the whole Clinton experience.
The path to a Russian acquisition of American uranium deposits began in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra orchestrated his first big uranium deal, with Mr. Clinton at his side.

The two men had flown aboard Mr. Giustra’s private jet to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. Mr. Clinton handed the Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections monitoring group, undercutting American foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, his wife, then a senator.
The Clintons either assumed that this sort of story would never see the light of day or that the MSM would ignore it. Such is their arrogant approach to politics. Perhaps the American people will not care about the appearance of corruption and consider it irrelevant to the joys of electing a president lacking a Y chromosome. I sure hope not.

But I wonder if the Democratic Party's leaders are so blithe. I wonder if they're wishing that they still had the ability to disappear into a smoke-filled room and come out with someone other than Hillary as their nominee.

You can watch the short summary of the story in the NYT from this Fox Report.

As the WSJ writes, why would anyone expect any other sort of behavior from Bill and Hillary?
We’re not the first to make the comparison, but Bill and Hillary Clinton’s adventures in the uranium trade recall nothing as much as Tammany Hall’s concept of “honest graft.” Except maybe their never-ending use of power and status for personal and political gain requires a new special terminology. Dishonest graft?

The New York Times reported Thursday on the foreign cash that flowed into the Clinton Foundation between 2009 and 2013 as subsidiaries of the Russian state nuclear energy agency Rosatom acquired control of a Canada-based mining company called Uranium One. The story features the familiar Clinton touches: lucrative Kazakh mining concessions for the tycoon Frank Giustra, with Bill along as a character reference; a half-million-dollar-a-pop speech by the former President in Moscow for a Kremlin-linked bank; $2.35 million in secret donations from one family foundation to another. Our Kim Strassel has more nearby.

All the while, Mrs. Clinton was serving in her capacity as Secretary of State on the U.S. Cabinet committee that screens foreign investment for national-security risks. The group approved the deal, despite critics who warned it would give the Russian government control over the world’s nuclear fuel—the same material Vladimir Putin is now selling to Iran. Oh, and don’t forget this was also amid the famous “reset” of relations with Mr. Putin.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign press secretary, Brian Fallon, distributed talking points claiming this was all merely a coincidence and pointed to a right-wing plot led by author Peter Schweizer. Mr. Fallon added that the allegations lack “a shred of evidence,” which is convenient given that Mrs. Clinton might have destroyed some evidence by wiping her private email server.

The media have exposed a wealth of new facts, but the stories are as notable for how familiar this all seems. Can anyone honestly claim to be surprised?

This is how the Clintons conduct their politics and family business, to the extent these are separate enterprises. The Clinton Foundation is a nominal philanthropy that was really created as a vast fund-raising operation to promote Bill’s post-Presidential career and Hillary’s pre-Presidential one.

Why on Earth would they cash the checks? They had to know these donations would create at least the appearance of corruption or a conflict of interest for the nation’s chief diplomat. The Justice Department recently indicted New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez merely for lobbying to change a Medicare rule that Medicare refused to change. The Clintons cashed the checks because they think they can write their own rules and get away with it.

Kimberly Strassel adds in,
Say this about Bill and Hillary Clinton: They are predictable. Some politicians dare to change, even to evolve, but not the former first couple. In these uncertain political times, Team Clinton’s lack of ethics—and its stock response when caught—is our one constant.

The details change, of course. In 1978 it was lucrative cattle futures; in 2014 it was lucrative speeches. In the 1990s it was missing Whitewater and Rose Law firm records; today it is missing emails. In 2000 it was cash for pardons; now it’s cash for Russian uranium mines. In Little Rock, it was Bill’s presidential campaign vehicle; in New York, it’s Hillary’s—and now known as the Clinton Foundation. Details.

The standard operating procedure never changes, however. It is as if the Clintons have—filed within easy reach on a shelf—a book titled “Clinton Scandals for Dummies.”

Chapter One: “Pick Your Spots.” The Clintons flourish in that hazy interface between legal and lawless. Their dealings always stink, but are rarely blatantly or provably (or traceably) corrupt. Consider this week’s news. Yes, tons of donor cash flowed to the Clinton Foundation at the same time Mrs. Clinton’s State Department was greenlighting deals helping those donors. But prove there was a quid pro quo! The Clintons dare you.

They know you likely can’t, since Chapter Two is “Limit Those Paper Trails.” Remember those “misplaced” 1990s documents, but also reread the 2000 report from the House Committee on Government Reform titled “The Failure to Produce [Clinton] White House E-Mails: Threats, Obstruction and Unanswered Questions.” The Clintons learned it took effort to keep documents secret. These days, they make sure there are no documents at all. (Mrs. Clinton, which emails would you like us to delete? Just search for key words “yoga,” “wedding” and “uranium.”)

Chapter Three: “Remember, the Press Has ADD.” Pixar’s “Up” features Dug, a cute dog with a serious attention problem (“squirrel!!!”). This is how the Clintons view the media. Pettable. Unfocused. When caught, the Clinton communications team will issue lofty dismissals—calling charges baseless or old news—and wait for the press to believe it. If it doesn’t, Team Clinton will hold one press conference—a la Mrs. Clinton’s email event—and wait for the media to call the case closed. If it doesn’t, they will change the subject (Hillary is running for president! Squirrel!!!) and wait for the press to lose interest. It often does.

Still, if all else fails, there is Chapter Four: “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy”—or VRWC. Mrs. Clinton’s conspiracy shtick is today a bit of a joke, but it doesn’t make it any less effective. It works to cast any serious investigation of Clinton behavior as a partisan witch hunt, and therefore illegitimate. And it does work. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is going to jail on dubious claims of trading favors for money. Could an enterprising prosecutor cobble together a similar case against Hillary? Undoubtedly. But no one will for fear of being accused of doing a Republican hit job on the Clintons.

The rest of the book falls under the heading “Stockholm Syndrome,” and consists of tactics for convincing fellow Democrats that the Clinton machine is inevitable.

John Podhoretz writes that the allegations in Schweizer's book will test the health of the Democratic Party.
Hillary Clinton’s ability so far to clear the field—with the exception of a former governor of Maryland who ended office wildly unpopular in his own state—is a mark of the party’s sclerosis. Even when George H.W. Bush was running as Ronald Reagan’s successor in 1987-88, there were six other serious contenders, five of them figures of note in the party: Senate GOP leader and one-time vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole, the wildly popular Rep. Jack Kemp, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and Pat Robertson. If Bush had stumbled badly, or if scandal had surrounded him, Dole in particular was right there to pick up the slack.

That was the mark of a party that had been strengthened rather than weakened by its years in the White House.

The biggest polling news today—from a Quinnipiac survey completed before the blockbuster story—indicates that 61 percent of self-described independents find Hillary Clinton “untrustworthy.” That is a dangerous number for her and her party. If everything that has happened and is happening and will probably continue to happen to Hillary Clinton does not surface a challenger or two more threatening to her than Martin O’Malley, the party she will lead in 2016 will be more the wounded animal than the national force.

Josh Kraushaar writes in the National Journal that the Democrats should now be regretting that they went all in on Hillary Clinton.
The story goes to the heart of several serious, growing vulnerabilities that Clinton will be facing, sooner or later. First, the perception of foreign entities paying the Clinton Foundation and later getting favorable treatment from the State Department raises the spectre of foreign governments buying access at the highest levels of the U.S. government—a politically potent allegation should any connection be proven. The fact that Clinton reportedly concealed the company's donations to the foundation from the Obama administration only raises the reason for suspicion.

Second, it's an unwelcome reminder that as secretary of State, Clinton viewed Russia as a trustworthy partner and didn't see any national security consequences as a result of the transaction. Republicans will be raising questions about her foreign policy judgment on numerous hot spots that are currently deteriorating, including Libya, Ukraine, and Iran.

Third, it raises the question of what other actions she took as secretary of State that would have the consequence of enriching her family through the Clinton Foundation. Former President Bill Clinton made a half-million speaking to a Russian investment bank promoting the mining company's stock shortly after the corporate takeover. That badly threatens to undermine her positioning as a populist fighter for the "everyday" American—an image her campaign has been assiduously pushing with her low-key launch.

Finally, her evasive answers in dealing with the controversy, refusing to address the specifics of the reporting and using her campaign team to attack the messenger(s) shows both how serious the allegations are, and how unprepared she is for the scrutiny. Polling has already shown her standing taking a serious nosedive, as more questions are raised about her conduct in office.
As Kraushaar points out, Hillary hasn't talked much about her record as Secretary of State.
But the list of foreign policy controversies she's connected with is continuing to grow. She championed the airstrikes in Libya that toppled the Qaddafi government. The country has now become an ungovernable safe haven where terrorist groups are thriving. She failed to identify the growing geostrategic threat Russia posed, famously giving a "reset button" to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Republicans just announced that their report about the Benghazi attacks will be released in 2016, right in the middle of the presidential campaign. Fairly or unfairly, Republicans will be connecting the growing turmoil in the Middle East to foreign policy under her watch. Her tenure at State, which allowed her to become one of the most popular politicians in America, is now seen favorably by only 50 percent of voters.
Of course, she hasn't said much of anything since she declared her candidacy. She wants to be a champion of the people. Well, sending her husband out as the bag man to engineer a deal selling American uranium to Russia is not quite the actions of the people's champion.

And as the Democrats attack Schweizer as a beneficiary of Koch money and part of the vast right-wing conspiracy, Schweizer has announced that his next book will be investigating Jeb Bush.
That landed Schweizer squarely in the crosshairs of the Clinton team and allied liberal groups, which have launched a campaign to discredit Schweizer as “disreputable” and blinded by partisan animosity. Anyone familiar with Schweizer’s work knows better: he wrote a well-regarded book about the Bush dynasty and another, detailing insider trading in Congress, that led to a new law, the bipartisan STOCK Act of 2012, which aims to curb these abuses.

That hasn’t quieted the left-wing clamor that Schweizer is simply out to get Hillary Clinton. But maybe this will: Schweizer is working on a similar investigation of Jeb Bush’s finances that he expects to publish this summer.

“What we’re doing is a drill-down investigation of Jeb’s finances similar to what we did with the Clintons in terms of looking at financial dealings, cronyism, who he’s been involved with,” Schweizer told me on Wednesday. “We’ve found some interesting things.”
Schweizer says he and a team of researchers have been poring over Bush’s financial life for about four months. Among other things, they’re scrutinizing various Florida land deals, an airport deal while Bush was governor that involved state funds, and Chinese investors in Bush’s private equity funds (something I wrote about for Bloomberg last year).

As he did with the Clinton book, Schweizer is hoping to partner with media organizations interested in reporting on and advancing his examination of Bush’s finances—an arrangement Schweizer feels has been mischaracterized in the media.  “With the Clinton book, we didn’t just give it to reporters with the expectation that they would report on the book,” he says. “We shared it early on with investigative reporters at ABC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post because we wanted that additional scrutiny [of the book’s subjects]. And we want similar scrutiny for this project.”
Schweizer also wanted to rebut the implication that he may have been paid by news organizations for an early look at the book. “There was absolutely no money that changed hands,” he says. “It’s ridiculous to suggest so.

On May 5, Clinton Cash will finally hit bookstore shelves and people will be able to form their own judgments. By then, Schweizer will no doubt be very busy, fending off attacks not just from Clintonites, but from Bushies, too.
Well, wouldn't it be ironic if the same writer sunk the candidacies of both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Why would Republicans, with all the choices out there in front of them decide to go with Jeb, if he's loaded down with some financial scandals and various other allegations of crony capitalism? Joshua Greene's story back in December detailed some of the problems for Jeb stemming from his background working in private equity. Haven't we tried that already? Do Republicans want to have a nominee whose background will force them to resurrect both the arguments used to defend his brother and Mitt Romney? And would defending Jeb lessen the power of attacks on Hillary? The need for a fresh face seems more and more paramount for Republicans.

Charles Krauthammer looks over what has been happening in the Middle East in the past few months and detects the strategic approach that the Obama administration has taken to the region.
This is the new Middle East. Its strategic reality is clear to everyone: Iran rising, assisted, astonishingly, by the United States.

Obama’s initial Middle East strategy was simply withdrawal. He would enter history as the ultimate peace president, ushering in a new era in which “the tide of war is receding.” The subsequent vacuum having been filled, unfortunately and predictably, by various enemies, adversaries and irredeemables, Obama lighted upon a new idea: We don’t just withdraw, we hand the baton. To Iran.

Obama may not even be aware that he is recapitulating the Nixon doctrine, but with a fatal twist. Nixon’s main focus was to get the Vietnamese to take over that war from us. But the doctrine evolved and was generalized to deputize various smaller powers to police their regions on our behalf. In the Persian Gulf, our principal proxy was Iran.

The only problem with Obama’s version of the Nixon doctrine is that Iran today is not the Westernized, secular, pro-American regional power it was under the shah. It is radical, clerical, rabidly anti-imperialist, deeply anti-Western. The regime’s ultimate — and openly declared — strategic purpose is to drive the American infidel from the region and either subordinate or annihilate America’s Middle Eastern allies.

Which has those allies in an understandable panic. Can an American president really believe that appeasing Iran — territorially, economically, militarily and by conferring nuclear legitimacy — will moderate its behavior and ideology, adherence to which despite all odds is now yielding undreamed of success?

Iran went into the nuclear negotiations heavily sanctioned, isolated internationally, hemorrhaging financially — and this was even before the collapse of oil prices. The premise of these talks was that the mullahs would have six months to give up their nuclear program or they would be additionally squeezed with even more devastating sanctions.

After 17 months of serial American concessions, the Iranian economy is growing again, its forces and proxies are on the march through the Arab Middle East and it is on the verge of having its nuclear defiance rewarded and legitimized.

The Saudis are resisting being broken to Iranian dominance. They have resumed their war in Yemen. They are resisting being forced into Yemen negotiations with Iran, a country that is, in the words of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., “part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

Obama appears undeterred. He’s determined to make his Iran-first inverted Nixon doctrine a reality. Our friends in the region, who for decades have relied on us to protect them from Iran, look on astonished.
From that 2008 debate when Obama proudly told the American people that he would be happy to negotiate with Iran and North Korea, we've come to this. He didn't quite tell us how he would facilitate a soon-to-be nuclear Iran becoming the major actor in the Middle East. But that is what he's done.

Meanwhile, Americans are trapped in Yemen as war is raging throughout that country and the State Department doesn't seem to care.
The announced end of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen may provide a window for thousands of U.S. citizens to leave the war-torn nation. Yet the State Department shows no sign it will begin rescuing the thousands of Yemeni-Americans there, drawing ire from the Arab-American community.

For weeks, the Obama administration has maintained that using U.S. government resources to evacuate its citizens in the middle of the Yemeni crisis would be too dangerous for the U.S. personnel sent to help as well as for the citizens themselves. Without any embassy or military presence inside Yemen, U.S. assistance for the thousands of Americans seeking to leave has amounted to giving them sporadic information, wishing them good luck, and dealing with them if and when they reach another shore, usually Djibouti in Africa....

Several other governments have arranged evacuations for their citizens, and even aided Americans trying to flee Yemen. India alone rescued 4,500 people from Yemen this month, including some Americans. Ayoub said that the Russian Federation sent out a notice to U.S. citizens in Yemen this week offering to help evacuate them on Russian ships. Desperate Yemeni-Americans are taking any offer they can get to leave.

The number of Americans still in Yemen is unclear. A 2010 embassy inspection report placed the number of American citizens in the country at 55,000, but Ayoub said the State Department now believes there are between 4,000 and 5,000 remaining. It would not be new ground for the department, which led an evacuation of 15,000 U.S. citizens from Lebanon in the summer of 2006, with Pentagon assistance.

But the State Department won’t engage Arab-American leaders on the issue, and groups including the ADC, the Council on American Islamic Relations and Asian Americans Advancing Justice have taken matters into their own hands. They filed two lawsuits against the State and Defense Departments to compel them to get Americans out of Yemen.
Think of that - having to file lawsuits to get the State Department to protect U.S. citizens in a war zone.
Yet, the tone from White House and State Department spokespeople when asked by reporters about the lack of action has often seemed dismissive; the official response has been to point to previous State Department travel warnings about the dangers in Yemen, which seems like blaming the U.S. citizens for being there in the first place. Many of these people are Yemeni immigrants or the children of immigrants who returned to see their families.

“We are giving Americans opportunities -- information about opportunities, I should say -- to use other methods of leaving Yemen, and that’s why we have been very clear since the mid-1990s that people should not travel to Yemen,” State Department acting spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Monday.

A reporter pointed out that one of the State Department’s absolute highest responsibilities is protecting U.S. citizens abroad.

“Absolutely,” Harf responded. “That’s why we have been telling them not to go to Yemen.”
How helpful that is. I guess it's their own fault for believing the Obama administration which had touted Yemen as a success story in their war on terror.

Ah, the IRS. Just what we'd expect.
If you tried to contact the IRS with a question about your taxes this year, chances are you didn't get a response. The IRS estimated that it would only answer 17 million of the 49 million calls received this filing season. Taxpayers lucky enough to have the IRS answer their calls waited an average of 34.4 minutes for assistance--nearly double the wait time last year (18.7 minutes).

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has blamed the IRS's "abysmal" customer service on congressional budget cuts--funding is down $1.2 billion from its 2010 peak--but a new congressional report points the finger back at the IRS. While congressional funding for the IRS remained flat from 2014 to 2015, the IRS diverted $134 million away from customer service to other activities.

In addition to the $11 billion appropriated by Congress, the IRS takes in more than $400 million in user fees and may allocate that money as it sees fit. In 2014, the IRS allocated $183 million in user fees to its customer service budget, but allocated just $49 million in 2015--a 76 percent cut.

Commissioner Koskinen will appear before the House Ways and Means Committee this morning, one week after the federal tax filing deadline, and he can expect to be asked why the IRS cut its own customer service budget and continues to spend money on other questionable activities.

The report notes that Koskinen reinstated bonuses weeks after his appointment, has allowed IRS employees to spend roughly 500,000 work hours on union activities, and failed to collect delinquent taxes owed by federal employees. The tax agency has also been strained by Obamacare. According to the report, the IRS has spent "over $1.2 billion on the President’s health care law to date, with a planned expenditure this year of an additional $500 million."