Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cruising the Web

Another day, another Clinton foundation scandal. The International business Times reports on how countries donated to the Clinton Foundation and then got arms deals approved while the missus was Secretary of State.
The Saudi deal was one of dozens of arms sales approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department that placed weapons in the hands of governments that had also donated money to the Clinton family philanthropic empire, an International Business Times investigation has found.

Under Clinton's leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure -- derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) -- represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House.

American defense contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements. Such firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of Pentagon-negotiated deals that were authorized by the Clinton State Department between 2009 and 2012.
As Allahpundit writes,
Personally, I’m pretty excited to have every foreign-policy transaction the United States engages in through 2020, at a minimum, scrutinized after the fact to see just how much the president and her husband personally benefited from our partner’s largesse.
Allahpundit points out that arms sales have been booming under the Obama administration....

And you can understand why, given the parameters of Hopenchange foreign policy: As we’re seeing right now in Iraq, Obama’s a fan of equipping foreign powers to defend U.S. interests, whether they’re truly able to do so or not, because it spares him from having to deploy U.S. military assets. Better that ISIS set up a terror state in the heart of Iraq and Syria than any combat units be sent in by a guy who got elected running against the Iraq war. It may seem counterintuitive but ramping up military exports makes sense for a White House that leans heavily on diplomacy (sometimes to a fault, a la Iran), strongly favors military disengagement, and needed a way to goose the economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Demand for weapons among Middle Eastern regimes was higher too during O’s first term thanks to jitters from the Arab Spring.

But none of that proves or disproves that donations made to the Clinton Foundation and the weapons that followed were matters of correlation, not causation. On the contrary, foreign regimes arguably would have had more reason to slip Bill and Hillary an envelope if they had reason to believe Obama was planning to turn on the arms spigot during his first term. They might have gotten more weapons whether they donated or not, but that’s true of many bribes; they’re insurance that a course of action will be taken even if independent motives to take that action exist. And of course, however Team Hillary spins this, the sober fact remains for the left that their next nominee will have presided over an unprecedented spree of weapons dealing, including to brutal authoritarian regimes, which complicates the tried-and-true Democratic narrative that Republicans are the party of warmongers. In fact, expect some of the sharper GOP candidates this time around to rebut that by wondering if one not-so-hidden reason why military exports ballooned under Obama is because the world became much less safe under his foreign policy. Of course Middle Eastern autocrats need weapons after Obama encouraged the Arab Spring by turning his back on Hosni Mubarak; of course the Saudis are frantic for the Pentagon to sell them massive amounts of arms while Obama’s new friends in Tehran terrorize Sunni populations in four different countries, the latest in the Kingdom’s backyard. That Hillary got paid from the aftermath just makes the stench that much more obnoxious.

Of course, why should the Obama administration worry about arms getting in the hands of regimes known for their denial of human rights? After all, as Bret Stephens writes, his foreign policy is based on the idea that the irrational are actually rational.
Can there be a rational, negotiable, relatively reasonable bigot? Barack Obama thinks so.

So we learn from the president’s interview last week with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg—the same interview in which Mr. Obama called Islamic State’s capture of Ramadi a “tactical setback.” Mr. Goldberg asked the president to reconcile his view of an Iranian regime steeped in “venomous anti-Semitism” with his claims that the same regime “is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.”

The president didn’t miss a beat. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s strategic objectives, he said, were not dictated by prejudice alone. Sure, the Iranians could make irrational decisions “with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool.” They might also pursue hate-based policies “where the costs are low.” But the regime has larger goals: “maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their country,” and getting “out of the deep economic rut that we’ve put them in.”

Also, Mr. Obama reminded Mr. Goldberg, “there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country,” to say nothing of Europe. If the president can forgive us our trespasses, he can forgive the ayatollah’s, too.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a man with an undergraduate’s enthusiasm for moral equivalency (Islamic State now, the Crusades and Inquisition then) would have sophomoric ideas about the nature and history of anti-Semitism. So let’s recall some basic facts.

Iran has no border, and no territorial dispute, with Israel. The two countries have a common enemy in Islamic State and other radical Sunni groups. Historically and religiously, Jews have always felt a special debt to Persia. Tehran and Jerusalem were de facto allies until 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power and 100,000 Jews still lived in Iran. Today, no more than 10,000 Jews are left.

So on the basis of what self-interest does Iran arm and subsidize Hamas, probably devoting more than $1 billion of (scarce) dollars to the effort? What’s the economic rationale for hosting conferences of Holocaust deniers in Tehran, thereby gratuitously damaging ties to otherwise eager economic partners such as Germany and France? What was the political logic to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls to wipe Israel off the map, which made it so much easier for the U.S. and Europe to impose sanctions? How does the regime shore up its domestic legitimacy by preaching a state ideology that makes the country a global pariah?
So is Iran's anti-Semitism rational or just what it believes?

The Fifth Circuit's ruling yesterday upholding the injunction against Obama's executive order was quite a rebuke to the President. As the WSJ writes, the ruling also made clear that the court was recognizing the standing of the states to sue to block implementation of the law.
This matters for the merits down the road because it means the judges agree that Texas has the “standing,” or legal basis, to sue. The Administration claims that under the Constitution the feds are supreme on immigration law. This is true when Congress passes a statute. But such supremacy is suspect when the executive branch unilaterally rewrites the law and imposes new burdens on the states in illegal fashion.

The Administration claims it is merely allowing immigration officers to apply routine “prosecutorial discretion” on a case by case basis not to deport illegals. But the court noted that if this were true “we would expect to find an explicit delegation of authority” to implement the Obama rule—“a program that makes 4.3 million otherwise removable aliens eligible for lawful presence, work authorization, and associated benefits—but no such provision exists.” (Our emphasis.)

In summary, said the court, “the United States has not made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits.”
We may well see Obama's action held up in the courts until the end of his presidency. But, as the WSJ argues, for those interested in some sort of reform on immigration, much more has been lost.
The Fifth Circuit decision vindicates the rule of law and shows again how Mr. Obama is exceeding his legal authority. But it is also a tragedy for immigrants who Mr. Obama teased with his illegal legalization. After last year’s election, many GOP leaders believed they had a chance to pass reform that addressed specific immigration problems—for farm or high-tech workers, for example.

But by acting on his own Mr. Obama poisoned the politics of immigration reform for the rest of his tenure. Republicans who favor reform have no chance to bring along angry back-benchers who have zero trust in the President to follow any immigration reform that Congress passes. This may have been part of Mr. Obama’s plan, letting him take sole political credit among Hispanic voters for legalizing 4.3 million while causing Republicans to again seem anti-immigrant.

Mr. Obama could have avoided this mess if he had recalled his law classes on the separation of powers. That’s where he should have learned that the federal government can’t run roughshod over states and that the courts are an independent branch of government that can call out a President for breaking the law.
Perhaps, this will all end up helping the Democrats politically as this issue will remain through the 2016 election. It may end up helping Marco Rubio, if he were to get the nomination, because he could argue that he is the best positioned to negotiate some sort of compromise measure. Of course, that is the promise of the 2008 Obama that he would reach across the aisle to resolve thorny policy disputes. And we know how that turned out for the so-called purple candidate. The opportunity cost of Obama's approach to immigration is the failure of any sort of compromise on immigration reform.

Matt Lewis contemplates which of the multitudes of GOP candidates would match up the best against Hillary Clinton. He doesn't have the answer, but he does make a good case that the GOP should pick a candidate who can really carry the fight against Hillary Clinton on her family's history of crony capitalism. Jeb Bush is not that person.

Peter Wehner argues that the Democratic Party has pulled too far to the left since the era of Bill Clinton.
But in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. On most major issues the Republican Party hasn’t moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990s.

To see just how far the Democratic Party has moved to the left, compare Barack Obama with Bill Clinton. In 1992, Mr. Clinton ran as a centrist New Democrat. In several respects he governed as one as well. He endorsed a sentencing policy of “three strikes and you’re out,” and he proposed adding 100,000 police officers to the streets.

In contrast, President Obama’s former attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., criticized what he called “widespread incarceration” and championed the first decrease in the federal prison population in more than three decades. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has chosen to focus on police abuses.

One of the crowning legislative achievements under Mr. Clinton was welfare reform. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, loosened welfare-to-work requirements. Mr. Obama is more liberal than Mr. Clinton was on gay rights, religious liberties, abortion rights, drug legalization and climate change. He has focused far more attention on income inequality than did Mr. Clinton, who stressed opportunity and mobility. While Mr. Clinton ended one entitlement program (Aid to Families With Dependent Children), Mr. Obama is responsible for creating the Affordable Care Act, the largest new entitlement since the Great Society. He is the first president to essentially nationalize health care.

Mr. Clinton lowered the capital-gains tax rate; Mr. Obama has proposed raising it. Mr. Clinton cut spending and produced a surplus. Under Mr. Obama, spending and the deficit reached record levels. In foreign policy, Mr. Obama has shown himself to be far more critical of traditional allies and more supine toward our adversaries than Mr. Clinton was. Mr. Obama has often acted as if American strength is a problem to which the solution is retrenchment, or even retreat.

Another bellwether: Hillary Rodham Clinton, in positioning herself for the 2016 election, is decidedly more liberal than she and her husband once were on illegal immigration, gay marriage and incarceration.
As Wehner points out, the Democratic Party is now about where it was before the advent of the New Democrats and Bill Clinton. How long has it been since we've heard about New Democrats? Not since the disappearance of Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party. I used to teach my students in AP Government and Politics about the New Democrats and give them a reading about their positions, but it soon became totally irrelevant. I usually don't think parties should pay much attention to advice coming from their political opponents. Wehner is certainly no Democrat, but he does issue a timely warning.
Those who insist that the Democratic Party’s march to the left carries no political risks might consider the fate of the British Labour Party earlier this month. Ed Miliband, its leader, ran hard to the left. The result? The Conservative Party under David Cameron won its first outright majority in Parliament since 1992. Before the election, the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair warned his party against letting the election become one in which “a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result.”

Mr. Clinton acted on a lesson Democrats learned the hard way, and moved his party more to the center on fiscal policy, welfare, crime, the culture and foreign policy. Progressive figures like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Bill de Blasio are the politicians who electrify the Democratic base.

For demographic reasons, many Democrats believe that they are riding a tide of presidential inevitability. They may want to rethink that. They are placing a very risky bet that there are virtually no limits to how far left they can go.

Learning that the IRS has been hacked is certainly discouraging. It makes us wonder if anything the government has on computer is safe. Think of how our present economy could come crashing down if people lose faith in buying things online or just giving information to websites.

Oh, what a shocker. FIFA officials have been indicted for taking bribes. Did anyone really think that Qatar was awarded the World Cup because holding a sports competition in a desert with daily temperatures above 100 degrees was the best place? I guess the only ones surprised are those who think international organizations are inherently more moral than those tainted by nationalist connections.

Megan McArdle was not impressed with the NYT's excuse-making for the wording in Affordable Care Act that is at the heart of the case King v Burwell. The NYT talked to a lot of people who claimed that it was just a drafting error that the wording in the law referred to subsidies should be given to exchanges "established by the state." Of course, in that long article in the NYT, they somehow neglected to talk to Jonathan Gruber who had stated publicly that the reason it was written that way was to put pressure on states to set up exchanges.
What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits—but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying [to] your citizens you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges. But, you know, once again the politics can get ugly around this. -
Rather amazing, but perhaps unsurprising that the NYT didn't refer to that quote from Gruber back in 2012 when he was running around claiming credit for writing a lot of the law. McArdle adds in,
My actual reaction is as follows:

1. This is not new.

2. This is incomplete.

3. This is not legally relevant, for good reason.

4. If it were legally relevant, it would not be as helpful to the case as liberals think....

These articles, however, often don't provide important counterarguments. For example: Congress indisputably chose exactly that crazy, insane, totally inconceivable structure for the Medicaid expansion passed in the same law. In fact, it was considerably more coercive: if you didn't expand, you lost all your Medicaid funding, not just the new stuff. Why would Congress choose a structure that might result in a net loss of insurance coverage? We can sit around and speculate, but ultimately the correct answer is "Who cares? They did."

Or consider the "drafting error" interpretation that many politicians have offered. Here's a puzzle about that, noted by Jonathan Adler and Michael Cannon in their amicus brief supporting the King plaintiffs: At several points during the drafting process, people kept adding the phrase "established by the state" to the middle of "exchange established under Section 1311," which Cannon and Adler say was unnecessary unless they saw some distinction between exchanges established under Section 1311, and exchanges established by the state under that section. This language survived the process of merging and reconciling bills, even while other sections were amended to ensure parity of requirements on federal and state exchanges....

The government has not made this "drafting error" argument in either its brief or oral argument; instead the defendants argue that "exchange established by the state" is a term of art that includes exchanges not established by the state. There's good reason for this. The "drafting error" argument requires admitting that at some point "established by the state" was deliberately written into law to mean, well, exchanges established by individual states, something that the government has no interest in saying, because contrary to apparently popular belief, "drafting error" is not a magic word that forces the Supreme Court to give you a mulligan. As Adler points out, Elena Kagan recently wrote in another case that, "This Court has no roving license, in even ordinary cases of statutory interpretation, to disregard clear language simply on the view that (in [the IRS’s] words) Congress 'must have intended' something broader."

However, even if this were accurate, and even if the court were inclined to broadly rewrite statutes to what the legislators wanted them to be, none of Pear's interviews would carry any weight toward that end. The Supreme Court isn't much interested in post-hoc statements of legislative intent....

Actually, this is not crazy, but very wise. Memory is incredibly fallible, especially about stuff you're highly motivated to believe.

We now have two cases of wonks who were closely connected to the drafting process, who said at one point that the King interpretation of the statute is insane to anyone who followed the construction of the law ... and can be found on tape at an earlier point (in one case, during the legislative process) advancing exactly the theory that they subsequently declared completely and obviously insane. Do I think that their later argument was a strategic lie? No, despite conservative shouts that I am being naive. Scout's honor, cross my heart and hope to die, I think that they simply forgot what they'd earlier believed.

Memory is so very terrible, and this law is so very complex. Anyone who tells you that they have a full and accurate memory of the evolution of the various moving parts is lying -- at least to themselves. They are incapable of being accurate about what must have seemed like a minor point in a law that was drafted five years ago. That's why the Supreme Court largely ignores post-hoc statements, and we should too.