Friday, May 15, 2015

Cruising the Web

Joel B. Pollak notes that Russia has announced that they would not be part of any snap-back provisions to put sanctions back in place if Iran cheats on the deal. Bloomberg reports,
The Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical Arabs, Israelis and U.S. lawmakers by saying that United Nations sanctions will be restored automatically if the Iranians are caught cheating.

Not so, say the Russians, who have one of five vetoes in the 15-member UN Security Council.

“There can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” in reimposing UN sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. He didn’t elaborate.

While the Obama administration maintains that Russia agreed “in principle” to the need for a sanctions “snapback” mechanism if Iran fails to comply with the agreement now being negotiated in final form, the Russian government has offered no corroboration.

Instead, President Vladimir Putin on April 13 lifted a ban on exporting missile defense systems to Tehran, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said lifting all the sanctions against Iran is good business for Russia.

That underscores a long-standing Russian aversion to sanctions, heightened as Russia now endures punitive measures imposed by the U.S. and the European Union over the crisis in Ukraine. Putin isn’t going to want to let the U.S. and European allies get their way on Iran without Russia’s agreement, said Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s highly doubtful to me that Russia could agree to automatic renewal of sanctions against Iran if there are violations,” Barmin said in an e-mail. “Russia may agree to discuss the issue at the UN Security Council, but not to quickly reapply economic measures.”
So that means that the guarantees that Obama is promising will protect us if, as anyone of sense would expect, Iran violates the deal, there will be absolutely nothing that we can do about it. If Russia refuses to go along with snap-back sanctions, do we really expect China to go along? What good are those sanctions. As Pollak writes,
The Obama administration’s case for the Iran deal largely rests on the snap-back provision. Without it, the west is giving Iran sanctions relief and the right to enrich uranium with no means to enforce Iranian compliance with its commitment to allow minimal inspections or keep enrichment within limits. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew said last week that snap-back provisions would not involve Russia–an odd claim, given that Russia would be one of the parties to the Iran deal.

Oh, dear. President Obama in his press conference yesterday said that Assad is not using chemical weapons again in Syria because he is using chlorine which isn't "historically" a chemical weapon although it can be considered a one if used as such. And there have been reports of Syria still using chlorine gas. Chlorine gas, as Stephen Kruiser reminds us, has always been considered a chemical weapon pack a century ago when it was used in World War One. Apparently, Assad is not worried about crossing that red line once again.

Howard Kurtz lays in to George Stephanopoulos for hiding his donations to the Clinton Foundation.
Let me be blunt: For George to give money to the Clinton Foundation, out of all possible charities, knowing full well that Hillary was gearing up to run, is a grave error in judgment. For him not to disclose this to his network or to viewers—especially when he was aggressively interviewing “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer about that very foundation—is unthinkable. And for ABC to brush this off as an “honest mistake” is embarrassing.

People already distrust the media as too liberal. A late-in-life journalist who began his career as a prominent Democrat working in the White House faces a special burden to demonstrate his independence. By donating to the Clintons’ family charity and keeping it secret, Stephanopoulos has failed that test.

In his statement of apology, Stephanopoulos said he gave the money because he cares deeply about AIDS and deforestation efforts:

“I thought that my contributions were a matter of public record. However, in hindsight, I should have taken the extra step of personally disclosing my donations to my employer and to the viewers on air during the recent news stories about the foundation. I apologize.”

Unfortunately, he’s even bobbled the damage control. Stephanopoulos initially expressed no regret for giving the money in the first place, but now tells Politico that, too, was a mistake. The original stories said he had donated $50,000, but it turned out to be 75K.

ABC also hasn’t covered itself with glory. The story was uncovered by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, which did the proper journalistic thing by calling ABC for comment. Instead, the network stiffed the Beacon by cooperating with Politico for a story that included such sympathetic details as that Stephanopoulos has donated millions to charity.

That kind of move sends a signal to other online outlets that if you’ve got a hot story, don’t call first, just post it first and ask questions later, lest your scoop be given to a friendlier organization.

Did it not occur to Stephanopoulos when he was tossing to stories about the foundation, or interviewing Schweizer, that his donations might become public and embarrass him? He also interviewed Bill Clinton about the foundation in 2013, the same year he made a donation, according to Buzzfeed, but the timing is unclear.
It's so typical that ABC, after hiring a Clinton operative and then making him their chief political reporter, doesn't think Stephanopoulos has really done anything all that wrong. They seem to be so arrogant that they just don't care about maintaining even a veneer of impartiality.

Jack Shafer at Politico comments on the way that ABC used Politico to get the story away from the Washington Free Beacon.
A worthy side note to the Stephanopoulos exposé is contained in its genesis. The story appears to have originated at the Washington Free Beacon, which asked ABC News for comment about the Stephanopoulos contributions last night. The next thing the Free Beacon knew, POLITICO had broken the story this morning. Free Beacon writer Andrew Stiles and site editor Matthew Continetti accused Stephanopoulos’ office and ABC of shipping the scoop to POLITICO. I sent email to ABC News seeking clarification on this point and did not hear back. I also asked Byers about the origin of his scoop to which he responded, “I’m not going to be able to talk about matters related to sourcing.”

If ABC News shopped the scoop, as the Beaconites claim, it wouldn’t be the first time that a news organization has been so preempted. Government and business play this retaliatory game all the time when journalists surprise them with a request for comment. What’s unbecoming is that a news organization might engage in this practice.

Come to think of it, that’s precisely the type of thing you could imagine the Stephanopoulos-era Clinton administration doing without compunction.

Charles C. W. Cooke details how "the Left won't let the Amtrak tragedy go to waste." After news of terrible crash of the Amtrak train that killed eight people and wounded over 200 people, Democrats were rapidly out trying to blame Republicans for not spending enough on Amtrak and thus responsible for the crash.
In all cases, the implication was clear: The dead were dead and the injured were injured because old rails had buckled under new weights; because underserviced wheels had locked up and given out; because the electrical wires that undergird the information systems had finally disintegrated and gone back to seed. Thus was a new tragedy ghoulishly recruited to an old cause. Rare is the day on which we are not told that America’s bridges are crumbling and that its roads are cracking, and that selfish and unimaginative politicians in Washington are rendering the United States as a shadow of its former self. Rare, too, is the day on which it is not asserted by someone that if we would just have the good sense to funnel more money to our favorite groups, we would be able to escape our present economic mess. With the news of a terrible crash, the would-be spenders were given a chance to wave the bloody shirt and to put a face on an agenda. Disgracefully, they took it.

In a sensible world, this execrable line of inquiry would have been abandoned at the very moment that it was revealed that the train had been traveling at almost twice the rated speed limit when it flew off the tracks, and thus that physics, not funding, was the proximate cause of the crash. But, alas, we do not live in a sensible world. And so, rather than conceding that we should treat the questions of infrastructure spending and of Amtrak’s subsidies separately from the questions surrounding this incident, the partisans scrabbled around to find an alternate — and conveniently non-falsifiable — theory: To wit, that if more money had been available to Amtrak’s engineers, they would probably have been able to find a way of saving the deceased. Never mind that the money is already there, but is being spent elsewhere; never mind that the reason that existing “crash-preventing” technology has not been implemented has more to do with “unique” “logistical challenges” than with an absence of funding; never mind that new technology is as capable of failing as old technology. If Amtrak had just had some more money in the bank, something would have been different. If we had rendered unto Caesar what his acolytes had demanded, the laws of physics would have smiled more kindly on the Northeast.

At the Federalist yesterday, Molly Hemingway argued persuasively that this sort of magical thinking is ultimately born of a peculiar form of secular theodicy, in which money has taken the place of piety and in which all accidents, hiccups, and human mistakes can be blamed squarely upon the unwillingness of the American taxpayer to pay their April tithes with alacrity. On Twitter, Red State’s Erick Erickson concurred, writing pithily that “the leftwing reaction to the Amtrak derailment” reminded him of televangelist “Pat Robertson’s reaction when a hurricane hits somewhere.” There is, I think, a great deal of truth to this. In our debates over education, healthcare, energy, and . . . well, pretty much everything, the progressive instinct is invariably to call for more money, regardless of the nature of the problem at hand. Naturally, there is a cynical pecuniary aspect to these entreaties: behind every “for the children” plea, it seems, is a union that is looking to get its claws into your wallet. But there is also a bloody-minded refusal to accept the world as it really is. We do not, pace Thomas Paine, “have it in our power to begin the world over again,” and we never will — however many zeroes the Treasury is instructed to scrawl on its checks. Accidents happen. Humans err. Evil prevails. Perfection is a pipe dream. The question before us: How do we deal with this reality?

On the left, the usual answer is to deny that there is any such reality. Just as conspiracy theorists prefer to take shelter in the comforting belief that 9/11 was the product of omnipotence and not of the unavoidable combination of evil, luck, and incompetence, the progressive mind tends to find calm in the heartfelt conviction that if we adjust our spreadsheets in the right way — and if we elect the correct people to public office — we will be able to plan and spend and cajole our way into the establishment of a heaven on earth. Thus did the arguments yesterday so dramatically shift and bend in the wind. Thus were their progenitors willing to say anything — yes, anything — in order to avoid the conclusion that the world can be a scary and unfair place and that there is often little we can do it about. The crash was caused by a lack of infrastructure spending that has left the railways in a dangerous shape! No, it was caused by a lack of interest in finding a way to prevent human error! No, it was caused by a general American unwillingness to invest in the sort of trains they have in Europe or Japan! Republicans did it! Midwesterners who don’t use trains did it! The rich did it! Quick, throw money at the problem, and maybe it’ll go away!

Throwing money at a problem is not always the wrong thing to do, of course. But one has to wonder where the limiting principle is in this case.(links in original)
The WSJ dares to offer up some facts to refute the Democrats' allegations.
Never mind that Amtrak has pumped $2.6 billion into the 456-mile track called the northeast corridor over the last decade. The eight states along this route that connects Boston to Washington through New York and Philadelphia supplied another $2.4 billion, plus a one-time $1 billion fillip from the 2009 stimulus.

Liberals have also discovered a signaling technology called positive train control (PTC) that might have slowed down the train, and they claim Amtrak delayed installation for lack of funding. But Amtrak’s inspector general reported as far back as 2012 that the rollout was dogged by poor internal planning, budget overruns and unreliable engineering, adding that “Amtrak has not included total funding for PTC in its financial plan or congressional funding requests.”

The House bill tries to control costs and reform Amtrak mismanagement, such as its above-market union salaries and benefits (49% of 2014 expenses) and its wasteful food and beverage service. But this modest effort doesn’t reach the core problem, which is the political misallocation of “investment.”

Since Richard Nixon nationalized passenger rail in 1971, Amtrak has been hostage to Congress and has run deficits every year. The feds own all the preferred stock and pretend to require Amtrak to operate as a for-profit corporation. In reality, it must behave as a public utility and social charity.

In a 2014 audit, the Amtrak IG observed that management thought “so many legislatively mandated tasks and responsibilities had accumulated over time that it was unclear what to focus on. That view was evident in the company’s 2011 strategic plan, which had five strategic themes, seven strategies, numerous initiatives and dozens of performance measures.”

This hyper-politicization has intensified under President Obama, for whom Euro-style high-speed rail is a special fixation. Ryan Lizza reported in the New Yorker that Mr. Obama “was aggravated when he was told that none of the money from the stimulus would be spent on a signature project, a modern-day Hoover Dam or Interstate Highway System.” So we are getting the $68 billion California bullet train that few will ever ride when it opens in 2028.

Despite $3.2 billion in revenue in 2014, a good year, Amtrak required $227 million from taxpayers or 7% of its operating budget. After depreciation and other expenses, it reported a net loss of $1.1 billion. But this disguises the one route where passenger rail is economically rational: the northeast corridor. Amtrak earned $496.7 million on that discrete service in 2014 on strong ridership, up from $390.1 million the prior year. But most of this surplus is used to cross-subsidize unprofitable regional and long-distance service everywhere else.

The transfer supports overstaffed, unpopular routes that serve 523 stations in 46 states like the Zephyr, from Chicago to Emeryville, California, or the Empire Builder, from Milwaukee to Seattle. Refusing to stop these lines makes little sense, except for politics. In 2012, the latest year for which data are available, the Transportation Department reports that Amtrak fares averaged 34 cents per mile, versus 15 cents for domestic flights and about a quarter for cars.

And some more facts to destroy Democratic talking points.
Amtrak had installed the "Positive Train Control" system on the track where a speeding train fatally crashed Tuesday, but the system was not switched on.

The system could have automatically slowed the Amtrak 188, but instead it jumped the rails, killing 8 people and injuring more than 200.

According to a top congressional aide, Amtrak told the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday that the PTC system was installed along the section of track outside Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, where the crash occurred, but it was not operating.

The aide said Amtrak informed the committee it has encountered delays turning the PTC on throughout its system because of the need to get the bandwidths required to upgrade the radios to a higher MHz, which improves reliability.

Amtrak has worked out a deal with the Federal Communication Commission to get the broader bandwidth either late last year or early this year, an aide said.

Oh, this is such a shocker.
Congress included more than 100 earmarks in its fiscal year 2015 funding bills, despite having a moratorium on earmarks since fiscal year 2011. The number of earmarks fell in 2015, but the overall cost jumped to $4.2 billion, according to analysis by Citizens Against Government Waste.

The anti-government waste organization released its annual Congressional Pig Book on Wednesday, showing that earmarks are entering a new era in which they are fewer in number, higher in cost and less transparent.

For example, in fiscal year 2010 the National Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund received 58 earmarks totaling almost $25 million, with the bill detailing which members of Congress had requested earmarks. In fiscal year 2015, the same fund received a single $25 million earmark with no transparency about who requested earmarks to be distributed from the fund, according to the report.
They just can't stop themselves.

Nicole Russell is not impressed with Michelle Obama's self-absorption as revealed in her graduation speech at Tuskegee University.
The First Lady especially didn’t like her her upper class, 1-percent, affluent—let’s just go with “comfortable,” shall we?—lifestyle being viewed under a microscope. “[O]ver the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. One said I exhibited ‘a little bit of uppity-ism.’ Another noted that I was one of my husband’s ‘cronies of color.’ Cable news once charmingly referred to me as ‘Obama’s Baby Mama.’” She told graduates of the historically black university to stay “true to the most real, most sincere, most authentic parts of yourselves.”

I don’t know who was far-fetched enough to say Mrs. Obama was “uppity.” I think it’s perfectly normal to travel the world on the super-generous taxpayer’s dime to places like Ireland and Africa, to the tune of approximately $10 million. A date night in New York for $11,000? Chump change and so truistic. They probably ate at dumb, cheap places like Per Se or Le Bernardin and just drank water and nibbled on a bread basket, you know?

And it’s totally not cronyism to hang out with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jamie Foxx, or George Clooney. Those people are so pedestrian and dreary. You know what baby mamas cannot do? They cannot afford to purchase and wear designers like Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu.

Could Jeb Bush really not have prepared an answer to the rather unremarkable question that he got from Megyn Kelly about whether, knowing what we know now, would he have gone into Iraq? I can't believe that he wasn't ready to answer questions about Iraq and that it would take him four days to figure out how to state his position. The WSJ has some good advice on how that question should be answered.
The better question, and one that would better address Mr. Bush’s fitness as a potential Commander in Chief, is what lessons he would draw from Iraq that would inform his own decision-making if confronted with similar circumstances.
They go on to give some recommendations on how a president can work so as to not be at the mercy of faulty intelligence recommendations.
The media love easy retrospective judgments—we specialize in shooting the wounded—and so do political candidates who want to score easy points. But we suspect voters are smarter than to credit the breezy claims of ex-post-facto wisdom by Mr. Bush’s GOP competitors.

What voters should care about is that the next President will have to confront the new global disorder bequeathed by this Administration. The ultimate lesson of Iraq is that there are no easy calls in foreign policy, and that intelligence of the sort generated by spooks can never substitute for the judgment required of statesmen.

Wow! One couple has had 13 children. That's not what is so surprising. What is really amazing is that all of those children are boys.
Experts were called in by the Wall Street Journal to discuss the statistical wonder of it all. The “chance of a family that has 12 children having all boys is about 3 in 10,000,” opined Joel Cohen, a professor of population studies at Rockefeller University, “but most families don’t have twelve children. Among non-Hispanic white women, which is what Mrs. Schwandt is, the fraction of women who ever have more than 7 children, which is all the U.S. Census tells us…the fraction is about four tenths of a percent. So if you put 4-in-a-thousand times 3-in-10,000 you get roughly one-in-a-million and this is certainly a one-in-a million family.”

And in another article, a genetics counselor calculated the odds of giving birth to 12 sons in a row as .02 percent.

But little Tucker wasn’t “it,” as it turned out.
God bless them.