Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cruising the Web

Marc Thiessen argues, quite reasonably, that we shouldn't be spending so much time asking candidates impossible hypotheticals about what they would have done in 2003 if they knew then what we know now and start asking about what to do now that we're losing so much ground in Iraq to ISIS. Meanwhile, Kimberly Kagan and Frederick Kagan argue that the fall of Ramadi was not inevitable.
This defeat was avoidable. Neither the Islamic State nor any other al-Qaeda offshoot has ever taken a major urban area actively defended by the United States in partnership with local forces. This is what happens when a policy of half-measures, restrictions and posturing meets a skillful and determined enemy on the battlefield. If the president does not change course soon, he will find that his legacy is not peace with Iran and ending wars, but rather the establishment of a terrorist state with the resources to conduct devastating attacks against the United States and a region-engulfing sectarian war.
Obama has spent the past year, first downplaying the threat from ISIS and then minimizing the American response. We had lots of intelligence and evidence about their growing strength and the threat they represented. As the Kagans detail, both the strategy and tactics employed by the US and Iraqi leaders were inadequate for stalling the advance of the Islamic State. And they're advancing elsewhere throughout the region. Meanwhile, Obama seems to be mostly focused on how to withdraw from the region.
The White House is no doubt abuzz with recommendations, many probably counseling avoiding being sucked further into Iraq. Such recommendations would be completely wrongheaded. We are already sucked into Iraq for the simple reason that an enemy that has claimed credit for lone-wolf attacks in the United States and Australia (which it quite probably inspired, although did not direct) is entrenched there, defeating our local partners, and threatens to establish a quasi-state that controls several large cities. Even at this stage, however, the Islamic State remains unable to stand against even a limited deployment of U.S. military forces if those forces are properly resourced and allowed to operate against the enemy. A few thousand additional combat troops, backed by helicopters, armored vehicles and forward air controllers able to embed with Iraqi units at the battalion level, as well as additional Special Forces troops able to move about the countryside, would certainly prevent further gains. They could almost certainly regain Ramadi and other recently lost areas of Anbar, in cooperation with local tribes. They might be able to do more.

The choice facing Obama is not between a massive deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops and a tightly constrained mission of under-resourced forces. It is, rather, between the serious application of a limited amount of U.S. military power and the establishment of a terrorist state. We submit that it is hard to imagine a serious policy discussion that concludes by favoring the latter outcome.

But, hey, why worry about this when we can flutter with excitement at the idea that President Obama is now on Twitter!

Chris Cillizza snorts at the Clinton campaign's defense of Hillary's avoiding the press. They state that she's answered 20 questions from "everyday Americans," but she's asked 117 questions of those same "everyday Americans." I don't even know what an "everyday American" is, but apparently it's not someone who hasn't been pre-selected by the campaign for the honor of asking her platitudinous questions.
I mean, where to start with this?

1. The vast majority of the people who have asked Clinton questions in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada were part of a pre-selected group who sat with her around a roundtable. That's not exactly like hosting a town hall event in which none of the questions are pre-screened. And if you look at the questions "regular" people are asking Clinton, they are not exactly the most probing of queries. A sampling: "I’m just wondering, what can you do to bring that heart back to education in the United States?" (Iowa), "What are your plans to help my community and help us not live in fear anymore?" (Nevada) and "I would like you to elaborate on what you think you might do for childcare in the future if you’re elected?" (New Hampshire) None of those questions are bad, per se, but they also aren't pushing Clinton in any way, shape or form on any issue.

2. It makes zero difference how many questions Clinton has asked average Americans. Like, none. If those people were running for president, then I would be super-interested to know how they responded to some (or maybe all) of Clinton's 117 questions. But, they aren't. She is. Citing the number of questions Clinton has asked of people to rebut the idea that she isn't taking enough (or any) questions from reporters is sort of like saying you aced a job interview because you answered every question asked of you with another question. That wouldn't make sense, would it?
What the campaign really means is that Hillary is avoiding asking any tough questions about her own record or responding to questions about her family's earnings from people, countries, or groups that subsequently benefited from decisions made while she was Secretary of State. The Washington Post is so irritated with the way she's been avoiding the press that they have a clock that is counting how many minutes it's been since she answered a question from the press.

If they think that this is a fun way to treat the media, just imagine how she'd be if she ever won the White House.

Thomas Sowell is not impressed with President Obama's statement that we need to "ask from society's lottery winners" that they make a "modest investment" in government to help the poor.
But the federal government does not just "ask" for money. It takes the money it wants in taxes, usually before the people who have earned it see their paychecks.

Despite pious rhetoric on the left about "asking" the more fortunate for more money, the government does not "ask" anything. It seizes what it wants by force. If you don't pay up, it can take not only your paycheck, it can seize your bank account, put a lien on your home and/or put you in federal prison.

So please don't insult our intelligence by talking piously about "asking."

And please don't call the government's pouring trillions of tax dollars down a bottomless pit "investment." Remember the soaring words from Barack Obama, in his early days in the White House, about "investing in the industries of the future"? After Solyndra and other companies in which he "invested" the taxpayers' money went bankrupt, we haven't heard those soaring words so much.

Then there are those who produced the wealth that politicians want to grab. In Obama's rhetoric, these producers are called "society's lottery winners."

Was Bill Gates a lottery winner? Or did he produce and sell a computer operating system that allows billions of people around the world to use computers, without knowing anything about the inner workings of this complex technology?

....Most people who want to redistribute wealth don't want to talk about how that wealth was produced in the first place. They just want "the rich" to pay their undefined "fair share" of taxes. This "fair share" must remain undefined because all it really means is "more."

Once you have defined it -- whether at 30 percent, 60 percent or 90 percent -- you wouldn't be able to come back for more.

....When all else fails, redistributionists can say, as Obama did at Georgetown University, that "coldhearted, free-market capitalist types" are people who "pretty much have more than you'll ever be able to use and your family will ever be able to use," so they should let the government take that extra money to help the poor.

Slippery use of the word "use" seems to confine it to personal consumption. The real question is whether the investment of wealth is likely to be done better by those who created that wealth in the first place or by politicians. The track record of politicians hardly suggests that turning ever more of a nation's wealth over to them is likely to turn out well.

It certainly has not turned out well in the American economy under Barack Obama.

Guy Benson summarizes the failures that are Obamacare in individual states. He concludes,
Incidentally, every state mentioned in this post was governed by enthusiastic, Obamacare-supporting Democrats during the law's implementation, undermining liberals' excuse that nihilistic and obstructionist Republicans are to blame for the "Affordable" Care Act's myriad failures. Several of the states included -- Kentucky and California, in particular -- have been touted as prime examples of state-level successes by supporters of the law.

Addressing California's drought crisis would not be as difficult if government would be more amenable to innovative solutions. Allysia Finley looks at what Israel has done to address its own problems.
Israel has made the desert bloom, but the task hasn’t always been an easy one. For decades, the country suffered chronic water shortages brought on by intermittent droughts amid rapid population growth—a problem only partly ameliorated by aggressive water pricing and conservation. In 2009, after five consecutive dry winters, the government water authority restricted outdoor gardening and agricultural irrigation.

By the end of this year, Israel will have completed three massive desalination plants in Ashdod, Hadera and Sorek that combined are capable of producing 100 billion gallons of potable water each year from the sea. More such projects are in the works. Next year desalination will provide about half of Israel’s water—not including the roughly 80% of recycled wastewater that goes mainly to agriculture—up from zero in 2004 and about 10% in 2009. The drought ended in 2012, and Israel doesn’t need to worry much about the next one. In a mere five years, desalination has turned a scarce resource into a commodity that may soon be exportable.

On the far side of the world, in another state often portrayed as a promised land of milk and honey, Californians are suffering perhaps the worst drought in a millennium. Desalination to the rescue? Carlos Riva, the CEO of Boston-based Poseidon Water, hopes so. But the same political and regulatory forces that have already exacerbated the state’s water shortage are standing in the way. Mr. Riva’s diplomatic way of putting it: “Water is a simple molecule, but a complex commodity.”

Most of the bureaucratic effort in California is going into cutting consumption. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has turned off the spigot of water trickling from the Sierra Nevadas to farmers in the Central Valley. Gov. Jerry Brown last month ordered urban water agencies to cut usage by 6% to 36% (based on per capita consumption) and threatened $10,000 fines against noncompliant residents and businesses. All this while the untapped Pacific Ocean glitters nearby.

Desalination technology that is “mainstream outside the U.S.,” Mr. Riva says, is proving exasperatingly difficult to bring to thirsty California.
He's trying to bring desalination to California, but government regulations and environmentalists are making that difficult. They'd rather cut the consumption end than provide more water. They'd rather learn to live with the problem than try to solve it.

Somehow depicting Vladimir Putin as a Roman emperor is a tribute to Russian democracy. That about sums up the state of democracy in Russia.

Glenn Reynolds enjoys a little schadenfreude witnessing the Democrats getting caught up in their own identity politics.
In my experience, people argue identity when they don't want to argue policy. And the reason they don't want to argue policy, usually, is that they're wrong. But in arguing that everyone who disagrees with them is a racist, or a sexist, or a tool of Big Money, or whatever, the Democrats run the risk of self-destruction. This is basically what happened to the the Labour Party in Britain: A reliance on easy tropes that please the base but alienate other voters.

As Daniel Hannan notes: "When leftists attack the Tories, they're not just having a go at 300 MPs, or 100,000 party members: They're scorning everyone who has contemplated supporting the party. ... How do you think this sort of thing goes down, not only with anyone who has ever voted Conservative, but with moderate people who, though they haven't voted Tory themselves, have friends and family who have? When you adopt a bullying tone, you find that 1) voters don't like it; 2) you solidify the other side's core support; and 3) some people hide their voting intentions."

Likewise, too many prominent Democrats and supporters have spent the past six years calling everyone who doesn't agree with Obama a racist. Now some of the same folks are gearing up to call everyone who doesn't support Clinton (or, perhaps, Warren, the backup-Hillary) a sexist. For instance, one group of Hillary supporters makes the preposterous claim that saying she is "out of touch" or 'insincere" reflects a sexist worldview. This technique worked pretty well so far for Obama's presidency, but it now seems to be wearing thin, even within the Democratic Party.

The 2016 election is still more than a year a way. It's not too late for the Democrats to start arguing policy. But if they want to stick with shouting about identity, well, the Republicans may be happy to let them.

And more sleaze connecting Hillary's stint at State with the Clinton Foundation and her off-the-books email. The New York Times reports on how Sidney Blumenthal, who the Obama camp despised so much that they wouldn't allow her to hire him at State, was coordinating policy outside the Department and feeding info to Hillary. This is coming out due to the special committee led by Trey Gowdi investigating what happened at Benghazi.
Mr. Gowdy’s chief interest, according to people briefed on the inquiry, is a series of memos that Mr. Blumenthal — who was not an employee of the State Department — wrote to Mrs. Clinton about events unfolding in Libya before and after the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. According to emails obtained by The New York Times, Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, took Mr. Blumenthal’s advice seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington and at times asking them to respond. Mrs. Clinton continued to pass around his memos even after other senior diplomats concluded that Mr. Blumenthal’s assessments were often unreliable.

But an examination by The Times suggests that Mr. Blumenthal’s involvement was more wide-ranging and more complicated than previously known, embodying the blurry lines between business, politics and philanthropy that have enriched and vexed the Clintons and their inner circle for years.

While advising Mrs. Clinton on Libya, Mr. Blumenthal, who had been barred from a State Department job by aides to President Obama, was also employed by her family’s philanthropy, the Clinton Foundation, to help with research, “message guidance” and the planning of commemorative events, according to foundation officials. During the same period, he also worked on and off as a paid consultant to Media Matters and American Bridge, organizations that helped lay the groundwork for Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Much of the Libya intelligence that Mr. Blumenthal passed on to Mrs. Clinton appears to have come from a group of business associates he was advising as they sought to win contracts from the Libyan transitional government. The venture, which was ultimately unsuccessful, involved other Clinton friends, a private military contractor and one former C.I.A. spy seeking to get in on the ground floor of the new Libyan economy....

Mr. Gowdy’s committee on the attacks in Benghazi hopes to ask Mr. Blumenthal who, if anyone, was paying him to prepare the memos for Mrs. Clinton and whether they were among his responsibilities at the Clinton Foundation. The committee’s investigators are also interested in whether the planned business venture in Libya posed any potential conflicts for Mr. Blumenthal or Mrs. Clinton, whose aides the business partners sought meetings with in early 2012.
So why was Hillary taking advice from someone outside the intelligence agencies and her own State Department. Allahpundit summarizes,
So the Smartest Woman in the World, the most powerful diplomat on Earth, was not only consuming half-baked intel assessments being fed to a Clinton Foundation crony by business associates with a financial interest in ousting Qaddafi (and who themselves had little experience in Libya, the Times emphasizes), she was circulating it among her staff — sometimes without naming Blumenthal as the source — for maximum impact. And she did this knowing that Obama’s own team loathed Blumenthal so deeply for his tactics against them during campaign 2008 that they refused to let Hillary hire him at the State Department. They didn’t want him influencing U.S. foreign policy. Hillary let him do it anyway. Oh, and among the State Department officials known for his skepticism of Blumenthal’s intel: Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was proved right when the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood fizzled, contra Blumenthal’s expectations, in voting for the new parliament.

Trey Gowdy reportedly wants to subpoena Blumenthal to find out, for starters, who was paying him to write those Libya memos. Were they freebies for his pal Hillary? Paid work from his business pals eyeing contracts in the new Libya? Or did his duties at the Clinton Foundation include producing dubious intel for the head of the State Department against the White House’s wishes?
Oh, and to top it off, the GOP had figured out that the exchanges that Hillary had with Blumenthal were from a different email address on her server even though she and her lawyer insisted that she used only one email address while at State. Just another lie. And remember this - we know a lot about Blumenthal's emails because a hacker obtained them and posted them on the web.

Does this surprise anyone?
Big labor funneled millions of dollars in dues money to the Clinton Foundation, according to a new report.

The National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR), a union watchdog group, traced at least $2 million in donations from multiple union organizations and affiliates.

“U.S. Department of Labor’s union financial disclosure reports reveal that Big Labor gave at least $2,034,500 in union general treasury funds to Clinton Foundations. Union treasuries are funded mostly by compulsory union dues or fees collected from workers who would be fired for refusing to pay,” the NILRR report says. “As Mrs. Clinton became closer to her current run for president, donations amounts appear to have increased.”

The Clintons have turned their foundation into a lucrative “slush fund,” according to one charity watchdog group, and have received hundreds of millions of dollars from notable businesses, media personalities, and political luminaries. The family has maintained that none of those donations influenced her decisions as secretary of state and that the money is strictly philanthropic.

However, unions did not necessarily agree about the apolitical nature of the donations, according to NILRR.

“Some of these ‘donations’ are categorized by the unions as ‘political’ on their financial disclosure report” to the Labor Department, the report says.
Yeah, "political" donations for a supposed charity. Sounds like more honesty than we're used to about union political spending.

So the member of Congress who was impeached and removed from his position as a federal District Court judge after having been charged with accepting bribes now thinks that members of Congress need a raise from their $174,000 salary.
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings made the politically tone-deaf case for raising salaries for members of Congress Monday, pointing to the high cost of living in the District of Columbia.

“Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution,” the Florida Democrat said at a Rules Committee meeting, referring to the average member’s $174,000 annual salary. “We aren’t being paid properly,” he later added.

Dan Le Batard ponders a curses-on-all-their-houses approach to Roger Goodell vs the Patriots story. But he makes a larger point about why this should matter.
There’s something larger here, though, that requires monitoring once we get past the noisy scandal du jour. Goodell has more reasons than ever to over-punish now. Despite his own scandal and maybe because of it, he’s incentivized now to over-punish in protection of his own integrity and his own public relations and his own rear end. And he can make the players’ union — his partners, mind you, the partners he keeps trampling — look like the bad guys for fighting on behalf of terrible martyrs in appeal. The union seems to be questioning and appealing everything he is doing now, but it isn’t fighting on behalf of rule-breakers and cheaters and criminals; the union is fighting for a uniform set of rules collectively bargained with a commissioner whose punishment system isn’t credible or consistent or negotiated with his partners.

Goodell somehow emerged from a Rice mess that caused the league all manner of shame to basically announce that he had appointed himself societal leader on domestic abuse — from calls for his resignation to more power to punish, in other words. He went from randomly making up a two-game penalty for Rice to randomly making up a 10-game penalty for Greg Hardy that the players’ union has to appeal because, well, he’s totally making it up as he goes along.

Who cares, right? Hardy did horrible things and deserves huge punishment. But here’s where you might want to be careful with that: Sometimes we hate the crime so much that we don’t mind or don’t notice who is doing the punishing and how. When 9-11 happens, we don’t mind as much that the police profile or the government tramples civil rights. When pedophilia happens, we don’t mind so much that the NCAA steps outside of its jurisdiction to trample Penn State and don’t notice when the NCAA has to reduce all those penalties afterward because of their unfairness. Most people don’t want the government and NCAA or this NFL commissioner having more power under normal circumstances, but some crimes and fear bring applause for the powerful getting more power even if they can’t be trusted with that power.

Goodell granted yet more power to punish after bungling the Rice mess so badly that an arbitrator ruled in favor of Rice’s reinstatement?

That doesn’t happen in a workplace of integrity.

It only happens in a workplace interested in protecting the illusion of it.