Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cruising the Web

Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute sums up what Obama's real approach to foreign policy is.
In his memoirs, Duty, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tells a story that could only have occurred in the Obama White House. In February 2011, as crowds occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo demanded the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a debate swirled over the proper American response: should the U.S. force Mubarak to abdicate, or support his plan to manage an orderly transition of power over the next seven months?

On one side stood Gates and the other principal members of the National Security Council (NSC). Mubarak, they argued, though a dictator, had been a reliable ally for 30 years, and toppling him would unleash chaos in Egypt, with no guarantee that the forces replacing him would be sympathetic to Washington, to America’s regional allies, or to democracy. On the other, pro-ouster side stood White House staffers vocally represented by Ben Rhodes—who, though only in his early thirties, bore the grand title of Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication and Speechwriting. In addition to his youthfulness, Rhodes had limited experience in international politics; his master’s degree was in creative writing, and his official role was that of a “communicator,” or spinmeister.

In the end, the president sided with the Rhodes faction, thus placing himself, in a phrase that soon emerged from the White House, “on the right side of history.” That side led, as Gates had warned, to a political vacuum in which the only established and well-organized party was the Muslim Brotherhood, which soon took power.

One might conclude from this story that Ben Rhodes has a deep influence over the president, but in truth he is simply his mouthpiece, or his clone. As Obama’s own two memoirs attest, he himself has long practiced a literary approach to his profession, acting simultaneously as author and as heroic protagonist. In this conception, the exercise of foreign policy is not simply about safeguarding American interests abroad; it is also about fashioning a creative and compelling personal narrative of the effort.

To be sure, all politicians impute pure motives to themselves and malign ones to their rivals. But Obama, raising the practice to the level of art, has recognized a simple but profound truth about political life: if you can convince people that you are well-intentioned, they will tend to side with you even if you fail to achieve your stated aims. In the Middle East, especially, the list of the president’s failed efforts is already long and growing longer by the day; it includes, among many others debacles, solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, launching a humanitarian intervention in Libya, and promoting a political solution to the Syrian civil war. Becoming painfully obvious is the last and greatest item on this list of pious failures: the president’s promises on Iran, embodied most recently and dramatically in the deal struck in Lausanne on April 2.

Obama has presented this deal as an effort to solve, through entirely peaceful means, the most consequential dispute in the Middle East. At the same time, he is signaling that his Iran gambit heralds much more than that. It is nothing less than the birth of a new vision of the American role in the world—an antidote to the military approach that allegedly characterized our foreign policy for decades.

This vision, however, is a fiction. Just as Robert Gates could see clearly in February 2011 that ousting Mubarak would deliver chaos and not democracy, it is clear to sober observers on all sides that the agreement with Tehran will fail to establish the elementary conditions for preventing the regime’s development of a nuclear bomb. Yet most people still do not appear to regard the president as either the cause of this disaster or as the solution to it. Will they ever?
And that is exactly right. Obama's approach to Iran is based on a fiction that Iran will become a useful member of the international community and a positive force in the Middle East if we would just conclude this nuclear deal with them. No one could believe that unless one had bought into the central fictions of Obama's whole foreign policy from the beginning.

Ron Christie identifies the question that the media refuse to ask Democratic leaders. Forget about rehashing the invasion of Iraq. What about what is going on right now?
Rather than chase announced and presumed Republican candidates such as Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL)—gentlemen who weren’t in the Congress to cast a vote going to war with Iraq more than a decade ago—why won’t the media ask this question of America’s two top diplomats who have steered our foreign policy since 2009: If they knew then what they know now, would Clinton and Kerry still have supported President Obama’s decision to remove our troops in Iraq, which has led to a void now filled by ISIS? Do they agree that the president’s belief in December 2011 that the U.S. was leaving behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” that was a “moment of success” is still true today?

The media should demand that the current administration account for the deterioration in Iraq as well as ask potential candidates on either side of the aisle running for president how they would move to stabilize the region. The time for gotcha games is over—the time for serious journalism presents itself now more than ever. Are the media up to the task?

To celebrate the end of the year, my AP Government classes have been watching the 1972 classic movie, The Candidate, starring Robert Redford. I've just been struck by how modern it is. Sure the campaign aides have to worry about making a response to get on the nightly news or they'll lose 24 hours before their next opportunity. But otherwise, I would guess that today's campaign operatives would recognize quite a bit from the movie.

I suspect that they were modeling Redford's character on JFK and there are some scenes where he looks a lot like Kennedy. The film ridicules how he makes these platitudinous speeches talking about the future and how we need to fulfill the dreams of the young and help the poor. Redford's character gives these cliche-ridden speeches to adoring crowds of young people and women who are just enthralled with him because he's young and good-looking and sounds inspirational if you ignore the fact that he's not really saying anything. Hmmmm. Sound familiar? All he needed was the Greek columns for his last speech. And of course the Republican candidate is a bogey-man of all the left thinks of Republicans. He rants against environmentalists and welfare recipients. He's clearly in the pocket of big business, just as the Democratic candidate, Redford, is going to be indebted to labor unions. The movie holds up quite well and if you haven't seen it recently, it's well worth watching.

Jonah Goldberg identifies Jeb Bush's real problem. He's just not up to par with campaigning these days.
By now everyone has had their say about Jeb Bush’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. The consensus is that Bush misheard Megyn Kelly’s “knowing what we know now” question about the Iraq War. I’m not convinced.

Politicians routinely answer the question they wish they were asked rather than the question they were actually asked. Indeed, those are the only kinds of questions some politicians — particularly ones with the last name Clinton — ever answer. The question Fox News’ Kelly asked is the tougher one, at least for Bush, so perhaps he opted to answer in a way that let him take a shot at Hillary Clinton, who also supported the war?

But it doesn’t matter. Bush should have murder-boarded every possible variant of that question. His team should have run drills on it, as if he were prepping for a presidential debate. And, he should have given a speech specifically about the Iraq War months ago to inoculate himself against all of this.

In other words, the disturbing thing about his response and the awkward effort to clean it up is that it was necessary at all.

Josh Kraushaar warns Democrats of the problems they will have if Alan Grayson is their candidate for the Florida Senate seat.
The list of Grayson's greatest hits is long—and contains equal-opportunity vitriol against Republicans, Democrats, and reporters alike. He reportedly called Murphy a "piece of shit" when recently meeting with DSCC Chairman Jon Tester. In the run-up to a 2010 landslide loss against GOP Rep. Daniel Webster, he aired an ad labeling his opponent as "Taliban Dan" and, without basis, accused him of wanting to outlaw divorce for abused women. Grayson called a Federal Reserve adviser a "K Street whore" and told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Dick Cheney has blood "dripping from his teeth" when talking. He threatened a conservative constituent with five years of prison time for launching a website titled Most recently, he asked Tampa Bay Times political reporter Adam Smith whether he was some kind of "shitting robot" when confronted with questions surrounding his offshore investments.

Grayson also is enmeshed in an ugly divorce battle with his wife of 24 years, who has accused him of domestic abuse. He's vigorously denied the allegations, and has accused her of engaging in bigamy and being a "gold digger."

"On a professional level, before he went to Congress he was a wealthy trial lawyer looking for fights to make a living. That's what he had to do. In 2010 [when he lost his first reelection], Alan Grayson proved to me that when the going got tough, he completely lost control," said Florida-based Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who led President Obama's campaigns in the state. "My gut says Grayson's looking for a fight. This is a guy whose entire career has been based on looking for a bully to hit. If he says he's probably going to run for the Senate, he's probably going to run for the Senate."
What a charmer. And here is another story about what a despicable man he is.
Florida Rep. Alan Grayson recently called his estranged wife a “gold digger,” but a review of the potential Senate candidate’s soap-opera divorce case shows he unsuccessfully tried to have her criminally charged for far less: ringing up grocery, gasoline and car-repair expenses on his credit card.

Grayson’s previously unreported effort to have Lolita Grayson arrested on credit-card fraud charges was revealed in one of her court filings that complained about the wealthy Democrat’s tactics to withhold money from her.

Jotkoff noted an irony between Grayson’s 2010 campaign — in which he ran a misleading ad attacking an opponent for saying women should “submit” to their husbands — and Grayson’s current divorce proceedings. Others have pointed out that Grayson’s 2012 campaign criticized another opponent for trying “to cheat his wife out of alimony and his children out of child support.” Now he’s being accused of the same thing.
And this man is in the House of Representatives today. Perhaps other Democrats should be asked if they support the way that their fellow Democrat treats his estranged wife. That is what happens whenever some Republican says or does something stupid or worse. Every other Republican suddenly becomes his brother's keeper in the eyes of the media.

Kirsten Powers, author of The Silencing, about how liberals are trying to shut conservatives out of public discourse, explains why George Stephanopoulos could have made such a mistake and endangered his reputation. It's the environment he works in.
While Stephanopoulos might be the piƱata of the week, singling him out misses the point. Simpson is harkening back to an era of journalism that sadly no longer exists. After all, we have a mainstream news media that took a Democratic Party talking point — "the war on women" — and reported it as if it's breaking news.

Presuming guilt among Republicans and goodness among Democrats is so reflexive and rewarded in today's mainstream media culture, it's not that hard to see how Stephanopoulos truly would not have understood he had an egregious conflict of interest as he faced down Schweizer. Like a fish doesn't notice the water, today's mainstream journalists are impervious to their bias in favor of Democratic candidates or liberal issues. They believe they are being objective because they have mistaken their ideological belief system for truth. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has noted repeatedly, "The facts have a liberal bias."

This view has fertile ground in which to flourish, as the ideological and intellectual diversity of the nation's newsrooms decreases. Per The Atlantic, "Among journalists who align with one of the two major parties, four in five said they're Democrats." While many of these people are able to account for their bias, too many aren't. A friend recently recalled to me watching journalists at a mainstream media outlet erupt in cheers as election returns came in favoring President Obama. It must have been lonely for the few Republicans: According to an Indiana University survey, in 1971, almost 26% of reporters were Republican. Today, it's 7%.

Expect the facts to keep getting more liberal.

So does sending out daily emails attacking a political opponent actually help a campaign? Not in the case of last year's North Carolina Senate race.
From February 2013 through Election Day 2014, I received more than 550 emails from Democratic entities attacking Tillis. That’s an average of nearly one email per day. And those are just the ones I didn’t delete.

“The emails helped control the conversation and the issues,” Ben Ray, the author and deliverer of at least 300 of the emails as communications director of Forward North Carolina, told CQ Roll Call.

Another 200 or so emails came from the Hagan campaign, 18 from EMILY’s List (including “Thom Tillis — outright scary for NC women”), a handful from Progress North Carolina and 30 from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

It’s a “win the day” mentality that seems to have started with Rahm Emanuel’s Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 and was accelerated by Barack Obama’s presidential campaign two years later.

By some indications, the tactic appeared to be working in North Carolina.

Democrats point to some tangible ways the aggressive email strategy directed at reporters was making a difference. An NBC News segment featured a focus group of Charlotte mothers who identified education as the defining issue in the race. Democrats also point to Tillis’ own ads, well into September, defending his record on education as evidence their messaging was resonating.
As a North Carolinian, I can testify that the attacks were constant on TV and radio. The anti-Tillis ads seems to greatly outnumber the anti-Hagan or pro-Tillis ads. I really thought Hagan was going to win. She was consistently up in the polls...until election day. But don't expect campaign operatives to give up the cheap and easy tactic of inundating people with emails and tweets.

Fox News has announced that their first debate will involve the top ten candidates as determined by an average of the five most recent polls before the debate. The Washington Post looks at who that would be if it were held today.
That's Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Donald Trump and Rick Perry, in that order. Just out of the running? John Kasich, Rick Santorum, etc.
Let's hope that future polls move Donald Trump to the clown range where he belongs. I can also imagine Carly Fiorina moving up as she gains more attention as the only woman in the race. She's relatively unknown now, but she has been quite active in appearing in basically any media venue that will interview her. I can't believe there are still people who take Trump seriously. The Real Clear Politics average of polls has a slightly different configuration of Bush, Walker, Rubio, Paul, Huckabee, Cruz, Carson, Christie, Perry, and Santorum. Of course, so much of the polls now are just name recognition. That's the problem with relying on polling to determine who gets into the debates, but it's hard to see what other solution there might be.

However, Daniel Henninger is right that having 19 or more Republicans competing for the nomination is preferable to just having Hillary Clinton lurching alone to a coronation.
The Democrats don’t need the Roman Colosseum. They’ve got the Clinton Foundation. It isn’t every day you get to see a candidate create her own trial by ordeal, but Hillary Clinton has done it with evaporating emails and speaking mega-fees.

So long as the Clinton mess stays this side of being legally actionable, Hillary Clinton will be in Iowa next February to pocket the caucuses she lost in 2008. Still, how did an American political party of such size and history become so sclerotic that beyond one candidate, there’s no one—other than Joe Biden and John Kerry?

Barack Obama was a Democratic anomaly. He became president at 47 in large part because he slipped through his party’s coast-to-coast bedrock of aging officeholders-for-life. If the NBA were run like the Democratic Party, Charles Barkley would still be starting for the Houston Rockets and James Harden would be on the bench.

For now, the Republicans are running 19 to 1. It may be unseemly, but last time I looked, there’s never been a coronation in the United States.

Those who have been paying close attention to the GOP nomination fight like Marco Rubio. Unfortunately for him, they're not the only ones who get to vote.

Yet another blow to the UAW.
Alabama factory workers voted for the fifth time in two years to break ties with the UAW on Tuesday.

Workers at NTN-Bower voted 74-52 to boot the union off the premises of the manufacturer, making it the third time anti-union employees have beaten UAW Local 1990 in the last 18 months.

So a bunch of sports reporters are irritated that Stephen Curry's adorable two-year old daughter, Riley, stole the show at the postgame conference. My first response when I saw the clip was to think that there should be a lot more children at these press conferences. Reporters are complaining that they have a job to do and deadlines to meet and having a toddler at the podium interferes with their ability to file their stories. Oh, come on. How often is it that anything worthwhile is said at these press conferences? Would their postgame stories be that much worse without the athletes' answers to questions about what went right and what went wrong during the game. If they're real sports analysts they should be able to watch a game and use their analytical powers to figure out what went well without the mostly empty answers that athletes give at these press conferences. Bring on the toddlers instead. In fact, the NBA should welcome the appearance of their players as loving fathers in contrast to the sort of Adrian Peterson story that the NFL has had to deal with.

And now we get the real reason why Alcee Hastings wants a congressional pay raise.
Hastings is far from wealthy: he has the second-lowest net worth of any member of Congress. However, his own financial troubles may have less to do with the cost of living in D.C. than the exorbitant legal fees he amassed since the 1980s.

According to his most recent personal financial disclosures, Hastings is as much as $7.5 million in debt. With the exception of a 2009 mortgage on which he owes up to $250,000, all of those debts are legal fees stemming from decades-old corruption charges.

In 1981, two years after President Jimmy Carter appointed Hastings to the federal bench, the FBI conducted a sting operation designed to catch Hastings soliciting bribes in exchange for reducing racketeering sentences for two brothers convicted of ripping off a union pension fund.

FBI agents busted a friend of Hastings’, D.C. lawyer William Borders, when he accepted a $150,000 bribe, allegedly on Hastings’ behalf, in exchange for lenient sentencing.

Hastings was acquitted of subsequent bribery charges, while Borders was convicted and later given a full pardon by President Bill Clinton. However, a subsequent investigation by a federal court of appeals found that Hastings was probably complicit in the scheme, his acquittal notwithstanding.

The report also concluded that Hastings had lied under oath during the trial. The House took up impeachment proceedings against Hastings, leveling 17 charges against him.

A Senate investigative panel voted to convict him on six of them, including charges that he had “engaged in a corrupt conspiracy to obtain $150,000 from defendants in United States v. Romano, a case tried before Judge Hastings, in return for the imposition of sentences which would not require incarceration of the defendants.”

Hastings became the sixth federal official in U.S. history to be removed by impeachment.

Hastings sued, claiming that he was improperly convicted by a Senate committee, as opposed to the full Senate. A federal judge agreed, striking down the conviction, but the Supreme Court overturned that ruling in 1993.

All of those legal proceedings resulted in massive fees for Hastings. In 2013, according to financial disclosures, his legal bills were somewhere between $2.1 million and $7.3 million.
So don't cry for Congressman Hastings. He made his bed and now he wants the taxpayers to help pay for it.

Perhaps Sean Davis's idea would get Hillary to talk more to the media.
You have to admire the sheer chutzpah of the Clinton media operation here. They know that their candidate is unlikable, that she has no charisma, and no ability to connect on a personal level with most voters. They know she is grating. They know she is no Bill Clinton. What she lacks in raw political ability she makes up for with raw political ambition. It is that animation, that desire for political power, that keeps the Hillary engine running, day after day. The Clinton operation knows this, and it’s why the campaign is so desperate to protect her from scrutiny and to avoid any and all opportunities for unscripted conversation.

There’s a simple solution to this problem. There’s a very simple way to incentivize Hillary to do the unthinkable and *gasp* answer questions from those whose job it is to solicit information from candidates for public office: ignore her entirely.

As political consultant Rick Wilson noted in an extended Twitter rant this morning, media coverage is the oxygen that keeps candidacies alive. Without it, they suffocate and die. Yes, paid media in the form of massive ad buys is important, but it’s nothing compared to the power of earned media. In politics, you only matter if you’re on the news. And if you’re not on the news or in the newspapers, you’re a nobody. And nobodies don’t get elected president.

Hillary desperately needs coverage of her painfully scripted and obviously inauthentic campaign events with the kinds of normal people she goes out of her way to avoid when not seeking office. She knows that America wants to see a friendly grandmother, not a conniving, corrupt, cynical career cuckquean trying to claw her way into office. That image can only be portrayed via coverage of her official campaign events. So if reporters and their news bureaus and TV networks want her to start answering questions, they should institute an immediate blackout of all her campaign events.
What if they gave a Hillary photo op and no one showed up? Now that's an idea.

Megan McArdle objects to the idea enunciated by President Obama and other liberals that Christians don't care about the poor.
Conservative denominations could easily argue that they are putting poverty on their public agenda, just not in ways that Putnam thinks are right, or effective, or enough. Groups like Chuck Colson's prison ministry have been a leading voice in prison reform, which I think we can all agree is an issue that largely effects the economically disadvantaged, and arguably creates a lot more of them. Conservative denominations also fight for what they consider traditional morality on issues like premarital sex and abortion. But it's a mistake to see these campaigns as being just about sex and sin. These are priorities because the denominations want to encourage stable families -- something that both they and Putnam can agree we'd like to have more of. Some conservative Christians oppose big expansions of the welfare state. Because they don't care about the poor? Here's another theory: because they don't think a massive welfare state is the best way to help the poor.

You may not agree with them on all of these points, of course; I certainly don't. But the fact that I disagree does not preclude the possibility that these are their honest convictions, pursued with good intentions. If you let yourself get sucked in by egocentric bias, you can't see this. For people with these blinders on, the invitation to join a national conversation on poverty is actually code for "hush up and repeat after me."

To put it another way: What if conservative Christians started saying that secular liberals don't care about poverty, and the only way liberals could show their human decency would be to step up charitable donations to the same level as conservative religious people, get active in efforts to provide private assistance, take in foster kids, and aggressively support stable nuclear families through a combination of exhortation and social sanction? It doesn't feel quite fair, right?
Good point, but don't expect it to sink in.

Rich Lowry reminds us of the history of Sidney Blumenthal, known in political circles as Sid Vicious. And this is the man whom Hillary Clinton arranged to give her back-channel advice on Libya while she was Secretary of State even while he was receiving money from a business that had stakes in what was happening in Libya.
Let’s think about this. One scenario is that Blumenthal’s would-be business associates got together and thought, “We need to find the best expert we can on North Africa, someone who understands the subtleties of Libyan political and tribal dynamics. Let’s get Sidney Blumenthal!”

Another is that they thought, “We need to find someone who is in tight with the Clintons and has a back channel to Hillary so, when the time comes, the State Department will give our venture the most favorable possible consideration. Let’s get Sidney Blumenthal!”
One of the principals in the prospective Libya venture, Bill White, told The New York Times, “We were thinking, ‘O.K., Qaddafi is dead, or about to be, and there’s opportunities. We thought, ‘Let’s try to see who we know there [emphasis added].”

It’s a telling statement about the nature of so many of the businesses that were drawn to the Clinton Foundation. They weren’t bringing new products to market so much as benefiting from political connections — from whom they knew — to get contracts and other advantages from government favor.

The Blumenthal story underlines what we already knew or suspected about Hillary’s tenure as secretary of state and at the Clinton Foundation.

She portrayed herself as a technological simpleton in her initial news conference about her emails, incapable of juggling multiple devices or email addresses. But here she is with another private email address that we might not know about but for the exertions of a Romanian hacker who first exposed the Blumenthal-Clinton correspondence.

She portrays herself as the picture of openness, explaining in a press availability in Iowa on Tuesday how she wants her emails public as soon as possible. But we wouldn’t know about the Clinton-Blumenthal correspondence but for the exertions of a Romanian hacker.
For all its good works, the Clinton Foundation was a political slush fund and holding tank for Clinton operatives. Presumably, the March of Dimes manages to get along without paying former government officials for vague work as they scheme to return to power.

The ethics of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state were atrocious. In what world is it OK for the secretary of state to get and pass along back-channel advice from a friend about a country where he has business interests at stake? The Clintons have managed to make their own rule book according to which, if there isn’t hard evidence of a felony, there is no ethical breach. But the standard in government is supposed to be avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, which the Clintons have decades of experience failing to meet.

Finally, it’s impossible to credit “the new Hillary” so long as she is dependent on the same old cronies.

Asked about Blumenthal at that brief Iowa press availability, Hillary said his emails were her effort to make sure she wasn’t “caught in the bubble.” Because nothing keeps you intellectually fresh and on your toes like emails from a loyal hatchet man of some 20 years and counting.

For a little history, check out this 19th century British primer for children to learn their ABC's. It's just amazing to see how unself-consiously they use racist little poems in a book meant for little children.