Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Cruising the Web

Now that Peter Schweizer's book, Clinton Cash, is out, the Clintons are stepping up their response. So Bill, the master, answered some questions with NBC News. What is surprising is how lame his answers are.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we have never done anything knowingly inappropriate in terms of taking money to influence any kind of American government policy," he said. "That just hasn't happened."
As always, we have to parse the Clinton's words very carefully. They've never "knowingly" done something wrong. And don't worry about any appearance that money flowing into the Clinton Foundation would have influenced Hillary as Secretary of State. Why should we worry? She assured him that it was fine.
But Bill Clinton says he's not worried about the criticism, brushing it off as "political." He quoted his wife as telling him: "No one has ever tried to influence me by helping you."
Well, that settles it then.

And don't fret about those speeches that he gave for a half million dollars a pop. He's just doing it to keep the family's head above water.
One thing he won't stop doing: giving high-priced speeches, even though he acknowledges being a wealthy man these days, reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars.

"I gotta pay our bills," he said. "And I also give a lot of it to the foundation every year."

The fees — $500,000 or more for 11 speeches while his wife was Secretary of State — are justified, he insisted.

"I spend a couple of hours a day just doing the research. People like to hear me speak," he said.

"We do our best to vet them," he said of the groups that pay for his talks. "And I have turned down a lot of them. If I think there's something wrong with it, I don't take it."
A couple of hours of research! Well, that makes the $500,000 fee much more reasonable sounding. And, despite the many millions that he's made since being president and despite all the benefits for a former president that the taxpayer picks up, he's gotta pay his bills. Or otherwise, they may go back to being dead broke. We wouldn't want that to happen, now would we? I can't imagine that having Hillary and Bill out there talking about how they just have to pay their bills like any other struggling family is going to whip up much sympathy once Americans realize how many millions that they've made since leaving the White House.

He claims that, since leaving the White House, he's "taken almost no capital gains." Well, given that his tax returns from 2000-2006 are available online puts the lie to that statement unless he considers $400,000 to be almost nothing.

And don't worry about all those mistakes on their tax filings. That was just a mistake by some flunky.
"The guy that filled out the forms made an error," he said. "Now that is a bigger problem, according to the press, than the other people running for president willing to take dark money, secret money, secret from beginning to end."

The problem, he said, is not that the Clintons don't have to play by the rules that apply to everyone else — it's that the family is held to a higher standard.

"People should draw their own conclusions. I'm not in politics," the former president said. "All I'm saying is the idea that there's one set of rules for us and another set for everybody else is true."
He's "not in politics? Everything about Bill Clinton is politics. His wife is freakin' running for president and he's been busy supporting her. Please don't play us like that. It's insulting.

Perhaps the American people won't care. But I suspect that what some people found a rather charming roguishness when he was denying his numerous sexual liaisons might seem less charming when it involves multi-millions pouring into the Clintons while the missus was Secretary of State and while she's running for the nation's highest office.

Bill Clinton might have been an asset to Barack Obama when he came around to supporting Obama's campaigns. But Bill was not all that helpful to Hillary in 2008 in the Democratic primaries. And sometimes he came off as both whiny and arrogant - not an attractive combination.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post is not impressed.
Um, okay. First of all, the "I'm not in politics" line is absolutely amazing. The world has rarely created someone as political (and as good at being political) as Bill Clinton. He will always be "in politics"; it's, literally, who he is.

The second sentence is more eye-opening. This is Bill Clinton in self-pitying mode; people treat us so unfairly and we do so much good and so on and so forth. Feeling bad for yourself is never an attractive look for a politician but especially in this case. At issue is a family that includes the former president of the United States and the heavy favorite to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. By dint of those titles, the Clintons operate in a different space than normal people and even normal politicians. Do they get more scrutiny than some? Sure. Do they get lots of benefits from their status? Absolutely yes.

Megan McArdle wonders if the Clintons just learned the wrong lessons from getting away with the Monica Lewinsky/obstruction of justice scandal.
Bill Clinton was the first presidential target of an Internet scandal. You would think that this would make the Clintons keenly aware of the web's dangerous powers, the way it ferrets out hidden secrets and blows past official gatekeepers to plaster those secrets on computer screens across the country. And yet, Bill Clinton survived and even thrived after the Saga of the Blue Dress. Perhaps that taught the Clintons to just stonewall and wait for Republicans to overreach.

This was the wrong lesson to take away. Yes, Republicans overreached in the impeachment, and they might again. But the current question is not a tawdry sex scandal with only tangential relation to Clinton's political duties; it is a financial scandal that raises questions of selling political influence (the kind that have been raised before about the Clintons). The even greater difference is that the Internet of today is not like the internet with which the Clintons contended in the late 1990s. That was a kinder, gentler beast -- in large part tamed by the huge economic boom that short-circuited the nation's interest in vilifying Bill Clinton. The Monica Lewinsky scandal might have turned out very differently in today's economy.

Too, the web during the Clinton administration was a set of static pages of relatively limited reach. Today every foundation tax return, every corporate giving report, every press release for every speech that Bill Clinton has made, is available to any random person who wants to put in a few moments at a computer....

The Watergate scandal taught every post-Nixon president not to record conversations. The Lewinsky scandal taught the Clintons not to leave evidence where the public can find it. What they should have learned is that there is no such thing as keeping your business out of the public eye any more. Everything you do leaves a trail, and there are too many freelance Woodwards and Bernsteins out there who will follow it wherever it leads. Since you can't keep them out, the best you can do is to avoid going anywhere that might interest them.

Now instead of a mini-scandal over some badly phrased e-mails that would have blown over in a few days, the Clintons have a lingering issue of unknown scale. But that's not the main problem for the campaign. The most serious concern at the moment is whether there are any other trails of breadcrumbs, and where they might lead.

Politico Magazine looks at the efforts that the Clintons have made in Haiti and doesn't find much for them to crow about despite all the grand promises. Clinton spent a lot of time and effort on Haiti when she was Secretary of State, but don't look to that sad island for evidence of her successful work at the State Department. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into that country, but it's accomplished little.
Hillary Clinton once hoped that Haiti would be the shining jewel of her foreign policy. But far from transforming this poorest of countries, many of the Clintons’ grandest plans and promises remain little more than small pilot projects—a new set of basketball hoops and a model elementary school here, a functioning factory there—that have done little to alter radically the trajectory of the country. Visiting some of their projects over the course of an April research trip affirmed as much about their tenuousness as about the limited benefits they’ve provided. Many of the most notable investments the Clintons helped launch, such as the new Marriott in the capital, have primarily benefited wealthy foreigners and island’s ruling elite, who needed little help to begin with.

Even for those who know how Haiti operates, there are many more questions than answers when one examines the Clintons’ recent work. Did Hillary Clinton keep her promise when she said, soon after taking office at State, that “we will demonstrate to ourselves as well as to the people of Haiti and far beyond that we can, working together, make a significant difference”?

Five years after her husband pledged to Esquire magazine that he was “prepared to spend three years” helping Haitians get “the right things for their country,” what does it mean that the vast majority of Haitians still haven’t gotten much of anywhere?
Yeah, but people associated with the Clintons have made a lot of money off of Haiti.
The money given directly by Clinton entities, often a few hundred thousand dollars, is small change compared to the billions floating around the humanitarian industry and the corporate world. But the combination of carefully targeted money and connections is invaluable, says GHESKIO’s founder, Dr. Jean William Pape: “He’s a catalyst. He doesn’t give you funds to throw away. He gives you funds to get you started.”

The Clintons have also had a hand in nearly all the new luxury hotel projects that have sprung up around the Haitian capital. Denis O’Brien, the billionaire owner of the major cellphone provider Digicel and principal investor in the swank $45 million Marriott that just opened in Port-au-Prince, said Bill Clinton conceived the project. “He said to the two of us [O’Brien and Marriott CEO Arne Sorensen], ‘Why don’t you build a hotel?’ And after a bit of a conversation, about half an hour, we said, ‘We’ll put up the money.’”

One of the Clinton Foundation’s favorite lines is: “Everywhere we go, we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job.” But at least in the case of Haiti, it’s hard to see how that would happen. The Clintons themselves are the only thing linking all of these projects and initiatives.

More than money, in other words, what the Clintons really provide is access. That dynamic both leaves them open to criticism and makes people loath to criticize for fear of being left on the outside.
What is tragic is how the population of Haiti struggles in terrible poverty despite the hundreds of millions of aid money that has supposedly gone to helping them. It might make some rethink that model of economic development for poor nations.

The Washington Post fact-checks Nancy Pelosi's claim that the VA bill being considered in the House would cut VA medical funds. On the contrary, the bill vastly increases spending for the VA. It just won't spend as much as the President asked for in his budget proposal. That is not a cut.
To call the funding in the House bill a “cut” is not accurate. The president’s budget proposal is just that: a proposal. The House bill is, indeed, lower than what the president and VA proposed, and what many veterans groups hoped to see. But the House appropriations bill increased VA’s total budget and its discretionary spending over fiscal 2015 levels. This is more money than the agency ever has had, and the total VA funding has grown by nearly 73 percent since 2009. It is also difficult to see how rescissions of bonuses or pay raises would lead to fewer veterans receiving care.

Aside from this bill, VA also has access to billions of additional dollars that was allotted to deal with its access-to-care problems. The agency has more than $14 billion left to spend. Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act specifically to allow veterans to cut through bureaucracy. The argument that 70,000 fewer veterans would access medical care because of the House appropriations bill is perplexing and clearly an exaggeration.

Get ready for student debt to be the next major problem threatening the bond market.
America's mounting student-debt problem is threatening to create trouble in part of a $170 billion bond market tied to government-guaranteed loans.

With borrowers increasingly struggling to repay their student loans, Moody's Investors Service is warning it may take investors longer than promised to get their money back. The credit grader said this month it may lower rankings on $3 billion of top-rated debt as investors face the threat of slowing principal payments or even receiving no interest.

The concern underscores the fallout from a record $1.2 trillion in U.S. student loans that's spreading to everything from the housing market and consumer spending to taxpayers. As a sluggish economic recovery forces borrowers to miss payments or tap relief programs, only 37 percent are current and reducing their balances, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York presentation this month.
Remember that about 97% of that student debt is guaranteed by the federal government. So one day that debt may come due, rather like the S & L crisis did in the 1980s.

Critics have often alleged that the efforts to increase women's jobs in professions that used to be limited to men due to the strength requirements would lead to a lowering of standards. And that is what has now happened with the New York Fire Department which allowed a woman to become a firefighter despite failing the fitness tests several times.
“We’re being asked to go into a fire with someone who isn’t 100 percent qualified,” the source said. “Our job is a team effort. If there’s a weak link in the chain, either civilians or our members can die.”

Wax’s graduation comes as the city celebrates the FDNY’s 150th anniversary and as the department is under pressure by the de Blasio administration to hire more women.
Only 44 of the FDNY’s 10,500 firefighters are female.

While Wax fell short, two other female probies in the graduating class passed the FST with flying colors.

“They’re kicking butt. They’re doing better than 50 percent of the class,” the insider said. “When they get assigned to a firehouse, they’ll be welcomed with open arms because they’ve done what everyone else has gone through.”

Other female firefighters aren’t pleased about Wax’s treatment, either.

“A lot of the girls in the field are pissed because they feel like they’re getting lumped into the same category of a female getting special treatment and not meeting the same standards as the males,” the insider added. “It devalues what the women in the field have accomplished.”
But, hey, why care about standards that were set to make sure firefighters would be qualified in an emergency when there are quotas to be filled?

Thomas Sowell fights back against that the riots among black populations is the result of the legacy of slavery.
The "legacy of slavery" argument is not just an excuse for inexcusable behavior in the ghettos. In a larger sense, it is an evasion of responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the prevailing social vision of our times, and the political policies based on that vision, over the past half century.

Anyone who is serious about evidence need only compare black communities as they evolved in the first 100 years after slavery with black communities as they evolved in the first 50 years after the explosive growth of the welfare state, beginning in the 1960s.

You would be hard-pressed to find as many ghetto riots prior to the 1960s as we have seen just in the past year, much less in the 50 years since a wave of such riots swept across the country in 1965.

We are told that such riots are a result of black poverty and white racism. But in fact -- for those who still have some respect for facts -- black poverty was far worse, and white racism was far worse, prior to 1960. But violent crime within black ghettos was far less.

Murder rates among black males were going down -- repeat, DOWN -- during the much lamented 1950s, while it went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before. Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families.

Such trends are not unique to blacks, nor even to the United States. The welfare state has led to remarkably similar trends among the white underclass in England over the same period. Just read "Life at the Bottom," by Theodore Dalrymple, a British physician who worked in a hospital in a white slum neighborhood.

You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization -- including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain -- without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.

Non-judgmental subsidies of counterproductive lifestyles are treating people as if they were livestock, to be fed and tended by others in a welfare state -- and yet expecting them to develop as human beings have developed when facing the challenges of life themselves.

One key fact that keeps getting ignored is that the poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits every year since 1994. Behavior matters and facts matter, more than the prevailing social visions or political empires built on those visions.
William McGurn argues that the problems Sowell is talking about and what we're seeing in Baltimore is not about race because we see the same dysfunctional behavior in Appalachia after 50 years of LBJ's Great Society aid there.
If our inner-city African-American communities suffer disproportionately from crippling social pathologies that make upward mobility difficult—and they do—it is in large part because they have disproportionately been on the receiving end of this five-decade-long progressive experiment in government beneficence.

How do we know? Because when we look at a slice of white America that was showered with the same Great Society good intentions—Appalachia—we find the same dysfunctions: greater dependency, more single-parent families and the absence of the good, private-sector jobs that only a growing economy can create.

Remember, in the mid-1960s when President Johnson put a face on America’s “war on poverty,” he didn’t do it from an urban ghetto. He did it from the front porch of a shack in eastern Kentucky’s Martin County, where a white family of 10 eked out a subsistence living on an income of $400 a year.

In many ways, rural Martin County and urban Baltimore could not be more different. Martin County is 92% white while Baltimore is two-thirds black. Each has seen important sources of good-paying jobs dry up—Martin County in coal mining, Baltimore in manufacturing. In the last presidential election, Martin Country voted 6 to 1 for Mitt Romney while Baltimore went 9 to 1 for Barack Obama.

Yet the Great Society’s legacy has been depressingly similar. In a remarkable dispatch two years ago, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Cheves noted that the war on poverty sent $2.1 billion to Martin County alone (pop. 12,537) through programs including “welfare, food stamps, jobless benefits, disability compensation, school subsidies, affordable housing, worker training, economic development incentives, Head Start for poor children and expanded Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

The result? “The problem facing Appalachia today isn’t Third World poverty,” writes Mr. Cheves. “It’s dependence on government assistance.” Just one example: When Congress imposed work requirements and lifetime caps for welfare during the Clinton administration, claims of disability jumped.

Mr. Cheves quotes a former grade-school principal who says this of Martin County’s children: “Instead of talking about a future of work, or a profession, they talk about getting a check.”

Yes, Washington’s largess has done some good. Even the federal government can’t spend billions of dollars without building a decent road or bridge here or there. But it all came at a high human cost.

To put the war on poverty’s “gains” in perspective, moreover, it is worth comparing the progress in both inner-city Baltimore and rural Martin County over the past half-century with, say, South Korea over the same time. While the Great Society’s billions were creating a culture of dependency, South Korea—with its emphasis on trade and global competition—rose from the ashes of a terrible war to become the world’s 12th-largest economy.

Meanwhile, President Obama says the rioting in Baltimore means “we as a country have to do some soul-searching.” He’s right about that, even though what he means by this is that others need to come around to his view. If the president really wanted to launch some national soul-searching, he would invite, say, Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) for a chat about how to get cities such as Baltimore to start generating jobs again.

Because to look at urban black Baltimore and rural white Martin County and conclude that the answer is more cradle-to-grave, “Life of Julia” federal love isn’t soul searching. It’s denial.