Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cruising the Web

Hillary gave her irritating phony laugh yesterday as she assured reporters that Sidney Blumenthal was simply an old friend with whom she enjoyed staying in contact while she's in the bubble of public life. This was in response to the NYT story that he was sending her more than two dozen memos while she was at State advising her about Libya while he was receiving money from groups in Libya and being paid by the Clinton Foundation, Media Matters, and the liberal Super PAC American Bridge. The WSJ isn't buying her "he's just an old friend" defense.
The Blumenthal memos also deserve Justice Department scrutiny. Team Clinton wants the world to think Mr. Blumenthal was simply offering his old friend some helpful intelligence gleaned in the course of his Libya work. A less charitable view is that Mr. Blumenthal was funneling information to the nation’s top diplomat in hopes that it would trigger actions to benefit his business interests.

The Times reports that in one memo Mr. Blumenthal provided Mrs. Clinton the name of what he viewed to be one of the “most influential” advisers to the new Libyan government. It happens this was also the adviser the Blumenthal business group was hoping would provide it with financing. Even as Mr. Blumenthal was whispering in Mrs. Clinton’s ear, one of his business associates reached out to a senior Clinton aide to “introduce the venture” and seek a meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Libya.

Meanwhile, among the details in the hacked Blumenthal emails is that he passed along a memo to Mrs. Clinton from an adviser to Georgia billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili—then running for prime minister, opposed by President Mikheil Saakashvili—asking the State Department to give support to his candidate. Mr. Blumenthal warned in his memo that Georgia could be “a potential hot spot a month before the [2012] US elections,” leaving the impression he thought she should take the plea seriously.

This is highly dubious behavior. In early April a conservative-leaning ethics group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, requested that the Justice Department investigate whether Mr. Blumenthal had violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This is the law requiring that anyone lobbying—defined broadly—for a foreign government must register with the Attorney General. Justice brushed off the request, as it always has during this Administration, but the query ought to be renewed in light of Mr. Blumenthal’s work regarding Libya.

....The broader point is that this is how the Clintons operate—on the edge of the law, mixing business and politics, the personal with the official, in a way designed to help the Clintons and their friends profit from both.
And amazingly, the Clintons seem always to be able to attract these shady characters going back to their time in Arkansas.

David French pulls back the curtain on what really happens on college admissions committees as tells us about his time serving on the admissions committee for Cornell Law School. It is not a pretty picture, but what I've always suspected would be the case.
First, few people understand how dramatic the boost is for favored minority groups. If students were black or the “right” kind of Latino, they would often receive admissions offers with test scores 20 or 30 percentile points lower than those of white or Asian students. When I expressed concern about an admissions offer to a black student with test scores in the 70th percentile — after we’d passed over white and Asian students with scores in the 98th percentile and far higher grades — I was told that we had to offer admission or we’d surely lose him to our Ivy League rivals.

Second, these dramatic breaks rarely go to poor kids who are overcoming the challenges of ghetto schools. Many Americans, myself included, understand it is a real and substantial achievement — one that can’t be measured in test scores — to overcome extreme poverty and America’s worst public schools to compete with students from far more prosperous backgrounds. But the same reasoning doesn’t apply to the children of doctors and lawyers. Yet they get dramatic advantages as well. In fact, unless admissions committees gave rich black and Latino kids dramatic advantages, they wouldn’t be able to hit their diversity targets. At the Ivy League level, affirmative action is an enhanced-opportunity program for favored rich kids.

Third, affirmative action isn’t necessarily for every black or Latino applicant. Cuban Americans often get less help. African students get less help. And, worst of all, there are times when admissions committees will actually ideologically cleanse the minority applicant pool of minorities who are seen as “less diverse” because of expressed interest in “white” professions such as, say, investment banking. If you’re a Mexican American who writes an admissions essay about defending the rights of migrant farm workers, you’re a dream candidate. If you’re a black candidate who aspires to work for Goldman Sachs, you’re “less diverse” (these are real-life examples, by the way).

The ideological cleansing also happens to white candidates. In one of the most memorable incidents, the committee almost rejected an extraordinarily qualified applicant because of his obvious Christian faith (he’d attended a Christian college, a conservative seminary, and worked for religious conservative causes). In writing, committee members questioned whether they wanted his “Bible-thumping” or “God-squadding” on campus. I objected, noting that my own background was even more conservative. To their credit, the committee members apologized and offered him admission.
And as long as they don't put down any of this tilting of their criteria down on paper and claim that it's all about diversity, they'll get away with it. That is what the Supreme Court's ruling in Grutteraccomplished. It gave universities the out for how they could discriminate. They can claim that they're just trying to achieve diversity and there would be nothing that an applicant with higher test scores could do to challenge the reverse discrimination going on.

Jason Riley writes about how Asian Americans are realizing how this discriminatory affirmative action is prejudiced against them and are now going to court and the Departments of Justice and Education to protest.
Citing several academic studies, the complaint notes that Asians have some of the highest academic credentials but the lowest acceptance rates at the nation’s top schools, a result that the coalition attributes to “just-for-Asians admissions standards that impose unfair and illegal burdens on Asian-American college applicants.” A 2009 paper by Princeton sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that “Asian-Americans have the lowest acceptance rate for each SAT test score bracket, having to score on average approximately 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student and 450 points higher than a black student on the SAT to be on equal footing.”

It’s too early to tell whether the Obama administration will take action or wait for the legal process to play out. Regardless, Chunyan Li, a professor of accounting at Pace University and a coalition organizer of the administrative complaint, told me that the complaint will help raise awareness of a problem that is only getting worse. The numbers have become too lopsided to ignore.

“In the past 20 years our population has doubled,” she said, but the percentage of Asians admitted to elite schools “has been capped artificially low. There have been some individual complaints, but they have gone nowhere. An investigation is long overdue.”

Harvard officials deny these allegations. The school’s general counsel said in a May 15 statement that the admissions process, which “considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review,” is legally sound. Schools use “holistic” criteria as a way to apply different standards to different applicant groups—e.g., play down objective test scores for Asians, play up subjective recommendation letters for blacks and Hispanics. The Supreme Court blessed the approach in 2003. The court has said repeatedly that while explicit racial quotas are unconstitutional, race can be a factor in admissions, just not the predominant factor.

In practice, however, there is strong evidence that racial balance is the highest priority at schools like Harvard, and holistic admissions are used to obscure the racial bean-counting necessary to obtain the desired racial mix. At the California Institute of Technology, a selective private college that uses color-blind admissions, Asian enrollment grew steadily to 42.5% in 2013 from 29.8% two decades earlier, reflecting the nation’s growing Asian population. At Harvard, Asian enrollment consistently remained between 14.3% and 18.4%. Harvard would have us believe that this remarkable consistency in the percentages of Asian (and other racial and ethnic groups) on campus has been achieved without quotas.

Asian interest groups typically have sided with their liberal black and Hispanic counterparts in support of racial preferences, though the negative impact on high-achieving Asian youngsters has been obvious for decades. In 1995 Asian freshman enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley, stood at 37%. The next year California made it illegal for state universities to consider race in admissions, and inside of a decade Berkeley’s freshman class was nearly 47% Asian. UCLA experienced a similar spike in Asian undergrads over the same period, suggesting that the California schools had been doing what Harvard allegedly is still doing.

Last year the California legislature moved to reverse the ban on race-based admissions, but Asian-American lawmakers, primarily at the urging of their Asian constituents, pushed back hard. The legislative leadership dropped the matter. Ms. Li said the episode alerted many of her fellow activists: “That opened up many people’s eyes. They saw it as going backward. These race-based admissions policies pit one group against another.”

So is this a surprise to anyone?
When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, her staff scrutinized politically sensitive documents requested under public-records law and sometimes blocked their release, according to people with direct knowledge of the activities.

In one instance, her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, told State Department records specialists she wanted to see all documents requested on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and later demanded that some be held back.

In another case, Ms. Mills’s staff negotiated with the records specialists over the release of documents about former President Bill Clinton’s speaking engagements—also holding some back.

The records requests came under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, the public’s main tool to get information from the government. Decisions on what to release belong with each agency’s FOIA staff, say experts on the law, to guard against the withholding of documents for political or other inappropriate reasons.
But of course, Hillary now tells us that no one could possibly want more than she does for the State Department to release the limited number of emails that her people deigned to turn over to the Department. We have no idea if that is all her emails since they destroyed the rest. But, hey, she's all about the transparency, right? Just like Obama.

John Podhoretz hopes that the "ick factor" will doom Hillary Clinton. There is this steady drip-drip of stories about the Clinton sleazy behavior.
She still polls better than every Republican nationally, she’s the most popular Democrat by a country mile and she’s one of the most famous people on earth.

Still, the tarnishment problem is very real, and it may be the Republican ace in the hole in the last few weeks of the 2016 election.

At that point, a few million votes either way might be likely to decide the outcome.

That’s when the get-out-the-vote skills of the campaigns will come into play — as well as certain intangibles that play a key role in helping those last few million voters who may or may not go to the polls or have not yet decided make up their minds.

One of those is something you might call “the ick factor.” What kind of association does the candidate’s name conjure up? Is it positive or negative?
Democrats spent most of 2012 raising the ick factor associated with Mitt Romney’s name — condemning the supposed evils of his investment-banking firm, publicizing his privately uttered remark that 47 percent of the electorate had become wards of the state, raising questions about his essential character because he was mean to a kid in high school and once put the family dog in a carrier on the roof of his car.

In this respect, Republicans are ahead of the game. Hillary is beginning her trek to November 2016 with a built-in “ick factor” regarding her essential truthfulness and the sense that she spends her life dancing around and about ethical lines.
Now, there will be a Republican nominee, and what was done to Romney will be done to him to the extent possible.

So what we may have, as Election Day nears, is a choice between relatively unattractive options. What’s far from clear is how Hillary can make herself even remotely attractive from here on in to anyone who isn’t already in her camp.
The tarnishment is permanent. The Clinton brand is damaged. The question is whether it’s going to tarnish the Democratic Party.

But, of course, some in the media are always more entranced with bringing up alleged sleaze against Republicans. So Roger Simon writes at Politico that what journalists should really be asking Jeb Bush is if he still supports the Willie Horton ad from back in 1988. Simon just doesn't say in his column that the ad was untrue. Massachusetts did have a furlough program for convicted criminals. Willie Horton, a convicted murderer, was granted a weekend pass during which he escaped and assaulted a couple and raped the woman. Why was this not fair game in a political campaign? For the past 13 years, I've done a unit on the history of political advertising using this wonderful site. I show the students ads going back to Eisenhower in 1952 through the present and we discuss various notable ads. When I show them the Willie Horton ad, there is always the same reaction. The kids know nothing about Michael Dukakis. Most of them have never even heard the name. But, after seeing that ad, they're unanimous in that it is a devastating attack ad and they'd have a hard time voting for the guy. Then I ask them if they think the ad is racist. I could probably count on one hand the number of students who have thought that over the years. Mostly, they have the reaction that what matters is what happened and what the policy was, not the race of the man. I ask them if they think the ad is unfair and, uniformly, they reject that argument. Perhaps they've become inured to attack ads, but they seem to have the sensible approach that giving furloughs to convicted murderers was a remarkably stupid policy and, as governor, Michael Dukakis needed to answer for that policy and attacking him for the predictable results of letting a man like Willie Horton out for the weekend was totally fair game when the man was running on his record as governor.

And this is what has Roger Simon upset these days? I guess decades of Clinton sleaze is nothing compared to attacking the Bushes for a phony controversy 27 years ago. It's always old business when it's the Clintons; it's always relevant today when it's the Bushes.

The Washington Post is not impressed with President Obama's approach to the defeating ISIS.
Beginning almost a year ago, the Islamic State carved out, across large swaths of Iraq and Syria, a terrorist state of sorts that Mr. Obama deemed intolerable. He said in September that it is a threat to “the broader Middle East,” including U.S. citizens and facilities, and “if left unchecked . . . could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.” Yet he refuses to commit the Special Forces and military assistance that could meet that threat, portraying any alternative to his minimalist policy as being “dragged back into another prolonged ground war.” In fact, Sunni allies in the region will be reluctant to work with the United States until it has a Syria policy, and Sunni tribes in Iraq will not confront the Islamic State unless they believe the United States will stand by them. Every conflict will have ups and downs, as administration spokesmen said Monday. But it is Mr. Obama’s unwillingness to match means to strategy that threatens to prolong this war.
David Ignatius explains why the fall of Ramadi is more than a setback.
Given that the Islamic State’s drive to capture Ramadi has been predicted for weeks, why didn’t U.S. and Iraqi planners reinforce the garrison there? Why didn’t coalition forces fight harder to control Camp Blue Diamond, a former U.S. military base on the northwest edge of the city? Why didn’t the coalition add troops to protect Ramadi’s provincial version of the Green Zone in the center of the city? Why were Islamic State fighters allowed to capture new stores of Iraqi weapons and liberate scores of their compatriots in Ramadi’s jails — adding new arms and men at a strike?

The Islamic State’s breakthrough in Ramadi brought wild celebration in other Sunni areas under its control. The group released a video Monday that appeared to show jubilant Iraqi men and boys in the Nineveh area spontaneously dancing and waving its black-and-white banners. The exuberant faces in the video, titled “Glad Tidings of the Supporters with the Conquests of the Predators of al-Anbar,” show how success begets success in the Iraqi conflict. Another jihadist video shows newly freed prisoners kissing the ground. Celebrations of the Ramadi victory, with festive, flag-waving crowds, were posted from as far away as Tripoli, Libya.

What’s worse, the Ramadi defeat showed that the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for Iraq — a Sunni tribal force that can work with the Iraqi military to clear and hold areas seized by the Islamic State — isn’t in place yet. The Iraqi parliament still hasn’t passed a long-promised law to create such a force, and arms shipments to Sunni fighters have been delayed or ignored by the Baghdad government.
So when will journalists ask Obama if, knowing what he knows now, he would still remove so many of US troops from Iraq and limit so determinedly our military response.

Dana Milbank is fed up with the hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton.
In a private meeting last week with 200 of the Democratic Party’s top financiers, Hillary Clinton drew vigorous applause when she said any of her nominees to the Supreme Court would have to share her desire to overturn the Citizens United decision.

Clinton also, as reported by my Post colleagues Matea Gold and Anne Gearan, put in a plug with the fundraisers (all of whom had hauled in at least $27,000 for her) for a constitutional amendment overturning the ruling, which allows unlimited spending by super PACs.

Nice sentiments, to be sure, but the fact that she was unveiling her Citizens United litmus test with party fat cats at an exclusive soiree (four days later, she mentioned it to voters in Iowa) tells you all you need to know about Clinton’s awkward — and often hypocritical — relationship with campaign-finance reform.

Even as she denounces super PACs, she’s counting on two of them, Priorities USA Action and Correct the Record, to support her candidacy — a necessary evil, her campaign says. She’s also chin-deep in questionable financial activities, ranging from the soft-money scandals of her husband’s presidency to the current flap over contributions by foreigners and favor-seekers to the Clinton Foundation. Then there’s the matter of her plans to continue President Obama’s policy of opting out of the public-finance system; Obama’s abandonment of the system did as much as the Citizens United ruling to destroy the post-Watergate fixes.
I don't mind Clinton raising money or having Super PACs or opting out of public financing. Just don't play the American public by decrying those very actions just as you do them. Don't pretend you hate the very things that you do. It's the hypocrisy, Stupid.

David Harsanyi has the same thoughts about journalists. It's not the bias, but the hypocrisy of pretending that they're not biased that is so aggravating.
And candidates should have nothing to fear, unless they’re insecure in their own beliefs. Whether a communist or Objectivist grilled me about my positions, they would not change. Sometimes your answers can give context or challenge the premise. Paul, for example, responded to gotcha question on abortion with the sort of feistiness that’s often necessary when dealing with adversaries.

When Todd Akin – or whomever the next Todd Akin is – says something stupid, it’s because he believes something stupid. Let’s not blame the press. When Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace – one of the few that is equally tenacious with conservatives and liberals – attempted to get an answer out of Marco Rubio about Iraq, he can’t because the candidate has no good answer.

What we don’t need is phony fairness in political coverage. Some candidates have a lot more to answer for than others. Some have positions that are obscure. Some have histories that need more digging. Partisans have the best motivation to ask the right questions. And since journalism is festering with prejudice anyway, it’d be a lot healthier if we were all honest about it.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer, who have just published Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America's Young about how our political system is giving young people the shaft, explain how Obamacare is such a terrible deal for young people.
Young people have no way out of this minefield. Either they must buy expensive coverage for services they do not need, or they must pay a fine for refusing to buy insurance under the “individual mandate.” No matter which way young people turn, the ACA exacts a toll on their pocketbooks.

This is especially true since the law artificially holds down premiums for older people and raises the price for the young. Since insurance companies are not allowed to charge older people more than three times as much as younger people (a provision known as “modified community rating”), the insurance companies have no choice but to pass the health-care costs of older people on to the young in the form of higher premiums. This is a major factor behind the low number of young people who have signed up for insurance under the ACA.

Before the law was enacted, the typical cost of insuring an 18-year-old was one-fifth that of insuring a 64-year-old. Because older people are at much greater risk of serious health problems than people just out of high school, it makes sense that insurance companies would charge the 64-year-old more. But income typically rises with age, so most 64-year-olds would be better able to afford the higher premiums.

Not only do young people face higher premiums, but they also have a harder time paying for them. This more than negates the benefits to young people of being able to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26.

Washington should repeal the ACA’s “essential health benefits” requirements, so that young Americans would not be forced to buy coverage they do not need. It should also increase competition in the health-insurance market by allowing people to buy insurance across state lines and affording individuals the same tax advantages on health insurance that employers currently receive.

The pre-ACA status quo in the health-insurance market was not optimal, but Washington has made matters far worse, especially for the young. In order to truly help the uninsured, Congress should repeal the ACA and create a tax credit or deduction to allow people to buy any insurance plan that suits them with pre-tax dollars; this would remove one of the main benefits now bestowed unequally on employer-provided coverage. Until steps such as these are taken, the war against America’s youth will only accelerate.

Ron Fournier has trouble with Hillary Clinton's veracity.
I don't believe her.

I don't believe Hillary Rodham Clinton when she says—as she did at a brief news conference on Tuesday—that she has no control over the release of her State Department email. "They're not mine. They belong to the State Department."

I don't believe her because a person's actions are more revealing than words: She kept her government email on a secret server and, only under pressure from Congress, returned less than half of them to the State Department. She deleted the rest. She considered them hers.

I don't believe her when she says, "I want those emails out. Nobody has a bigger interest in those being released than I do."

I don't believe her because I've covered the Clintons since the 1980s and know how dedicated they are to what former Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry called "telling the truth slowly." The fact is that she would rather delay the document dump until early 2016—and then have the email released on a single day to overwhelm the media and allow her to declare herself exonerated. That was her strategic choice, Clinton advisers confirmed for me, until a federal judge ordered the State Department on Tuesday to release the email in stages.

I don't believe her answer to this question: Is there a conflict of interest in accepting huge speaking fees from special interests seeking government action? "No," she replied.

I don't believe her because I saw how hard Clinton and her husband, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, worked to pass the state's first sweeping ethics initiative. I don't believe her because I've heard Clinton and her husband rail against GOP politicians who were guilty of less-obvious conflicts of interest. I don't believe her because there have been far too many credible news reports about the blurring of lines between family finances, the family foundation, and her political and government interests.
The Clintons lose some honest liberals like Fournier who admits that he likes and respects them. Of course, Fournier blames the bad advice she's been getting instead of the simpler explanation that the Clintons that, when a couple does sleazy and apparently corrupt things for over 30 years, Occam's Razor might indicate that the couple are sleazy and corrupt.

Bret Stephens isn't impressed with the administration's spin about absolutely awesome their handling of the Middle East has been, particularly their hoped-for deal with Iran and how it will miraculously make that region more stable. Stephens then ticks off what has happened in the past month and a half since Obama announced the framework for their deal with Iran.
April 2: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif immediately accuses the U.S. of “spin” and contradicts Mr. Obama’s key claims regarding the terms of the deal.

April 12: A Swedish think tank reports that Saudi Arabia registered the biggest increase in defense spending in the world.

April 13: Moscow says it will deliver the S-300 air-defense system to Tehran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei later boasts that the U.S. “can’t do a damn thing” militarily against Iran.

April 14: Iran announces agreements with Russia and China to build additional nuclear reactors.

April 17: Iran dispatches an armed convoy of ships, believed to be destined to resupply pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen in contravention of a U.N. arms embargo. The convoy turns back after the U.S. deploys an aircraft carrier to the region to shadow the ships.

April 20: Jason Rezaian, the American-born Washington Post reporter imprisoned in Iran since July, is charged with espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments” and “propaganda against the establishment.”

April 20: The British government informs the U.N. panel monitoring sanctions on Iran that it “is aware of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network” associated with two Iranian companies that are under international sanctions.
And the list goes on and on and on. Stephens concludes,
I recount these events not just to illustrate the distance between Ben Rhodes’s concept of reality and reality itself. It’s also a question of speed. The Middle East, along with our position in it, is unraveling at an astonishing pace. Reckless drivers often don’t notice how fast they’re going until they’re about to crash.

We are near the point where there will be no walking back the mistakes we have made. No walking away from them, either. It takes a special innocence to imagine that nothing in life is irreversible, that everything can be put right, that fanaticism yields to reason and facts yield to wishes, and that the arc of Mideast history bends toward justice.

Ben Rhodes, and the administration he represents and typifies, is special.