Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cruising the Web

Ah, the penalties of transparent corruption hit home for the Clintons.
More bad news for the Clintons. With Hillary's presidential campaign slipping in the polls against Sen. Bernie Sanders and facing a potential fresh challenge from Vice President Joe Biden, six giants of the corporate world are bailing out on the Clinton Global Initiative.

On Sept. 26, CGI, a branch of the Clinton Foundation, convenes its 11th annual meeting with a star-studded cast. Bill and Chelsea Clinton will be joined by Ashley Judd, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Ted Danson, Tina Brown, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and George Soros. What will be missing is more than a million dollars from a who's who of corporate behemoths that sponsored the meeting last year. Six high-profile firms ended their cash donations, to be replaced with only one similar high-profile corporate donor so far.

USA TODAY has confirmed that sponsors from 2014 that have backed out for this year include electronics company Samsung, oil giant ExxonMobil, global financial firms Deutsche Bank and HSBC, and accounting firm PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). Hewlett-Packard, which just announced major layoffs, will be an in-kind donor instead of a cash contributor, and the agri-chem firm Monsanto has cut back its donation. Dow's name is missing from the donor list as well, but the chemical company's exit is not confirmed.
It just isn't so worthwhile to be associated with the Clinton Foundation any more. He he.

The Washington Post rightly criticizes Pope Francis for his appeasing attitude toward the Castro brothers and contrasts this with his willingness to excoriate Americans on issues from how we treat the poor, immigrants, convicted criminals and our system of capitalism.
How, then, to explain Pope Francis’s behavior in Cuba? The pope is spending four days in a country whose Communist dictatorship has remained unrelenting in its repression of free speech, political dissent and other human rights despite a warming of relations with the Vatican and the United States. Yet by the end of his third day, the pope had said or done absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts.

Pope Francis met with 89-year-old Fidel Castro, who holds no office in Cuba, but not with any members of the dissident community — in or outside of prison. According to the Web site 14ymedio.com, two opposition activists were invited to greet the pope at Havana’s cathedral Sunday but were arrested on the way. Dozens of other dissidents were detained when they attempted to attend an open air Mass. They needn’t have bothered: The pope said nothing in his homily about their cause, or even political freedom more generally. Those hunting for a message had to settle for a cryptic declaration that “service is never ideological.”

Sadly, this appeasement of power is consistent with the Vatican’s approach to Cuba ever since Raúl Castro replaced his brother in 2006. Led by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the church committed to a strategy of working with the regime in the hope of encouraging its gradual moderation. The results have been slight. Cardinal Ortega obtained Raúl Castro’s promise to release all political prisoners, but arrests have continued and dissident groups say the number of jailed is now above 70. One leading Christian dissident, Oswaldo Payá, was killed in a suspicious 2012 auto crash.

The Vatican’s greatest success has been the adoption of its strategy by the Obama administration, which has also restored relations with the Castros while excluding the political opposition. Here, too, there have been disappointing results. U.S. exports to Cuba, controlled by Havana, have declined this year, while arrests of opponents have increased, along with refu­gees. Many Cubans are trying to reach the United States ahead of what they fear will be a move by the Obama administration to placate the regime with a tightening of asylum rules.

Pope Francis may believe that merely by touring the country he will inspire Cubans to become more active and press the regime for change. But two previous papal visits, in 1998 and 2012, did not have that effect. By now it is clear that the Castros won’t be moved by quiet diplomacy or indirect hints. A direct campaign of words and acts, like that Pope Francis is planning for the United States, would surely have an impact. But then, it takes more fortitude to challenge a dictatorship than a democracy.
This was a contrast to John Paul II's visit to Cuba.
When John Paul II visited this strange and wonderful island 17 years ago, he kissed a tray of Cuban soil held up by children at his airport ceremony and held Fidel Castro at arm’s length telling him in no uncertain terms that he was there to pray that Cuba would become a land of “freedom, mutual trust, social justice and lasting peace.” It was a kind of victory lap for the great Cold War crusader against Communism, given credit by many for vanquishing Fidel’s sponsors in the by-then quite defunct Soviet Union.

The elder Castro was just as rigid, using his time at the podium to say Cuba was fine just the way it was, thank you. “We choose a thousand deaths rather than abdicate our convictions,” he told John Paul as a way of greeting.

Nothing could be more different from the welcoming ceremony when Francis landed here on Saturday night, not least because Pope Francis shares many of the convictions that Fidel and Raul officially say they stand for: identifying with the poor, calling for greater income equality.

On Friday evening, Francie and Fidel’s younger brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, greeted each other like old friends, embracing in such a warm way one can almost imagine them sitting down over a glass of rum (and a cigar?) in the old city center like old compañeros de lucha, comrades in the struggle.

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Donald Trump sells himself as a tough guy who won't be cowed by anyone. When anyone criticizes them, he'll spend the evening on Twitter slamming them. And now that the Club for Growth is airing ads on Donald Trump's record on tax hikes, he threatens to sue them. Because that is what a tough guy does.
The free-market group this month purchased $1 million in television advertising time in Iowa this month, criticizing Trump's past support for tax hikes. The club has been concerned about the billionaire New York businessman/entertainer's front-runner status given his history of staking out left-of-center fiscal positions. Trump responded with a cease and desist letter, signed by his Allen Garten, his general counsel, that vowed to sue the Club for Growth if the organization doesn't pull TV spots it claims are misleading.

David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, mocked Trump's lawsuit threat and promised to continue running the ads.

"Tough guy Donald Trump starts whining when his liberal record is revealed," McIntosh said in a statement. "Trump has advocated higher taxes numerous times over many years, just like he's advocated for universal health care, the Wall Street bailout, and expanded government powers to take private property. Trump's own statements prove that our ads are accurate. They will continue to run. We suggest that Donald grow up, stop whining, and try to defend his liberal record."

Jonathan Last notes this hypocrisy from the left hyperventilating about Ben Carson's remarks about Muslims.
I’m never quite sure why it is that people on the left are scared to death of orthodox Christians, but think that orthodox Muslims are the bee’s knees. I suppose the answer is “multiculturalism.” Or just outright bigotry.

Because exactly how well would a traditional, orthodox Muslim in the White House match up with progressive politics? And I don’t mean some guy from the Taliban, but rather, say, your average, man-on-the-street from Saudi Arabia. Or Iran. Or Yemen. Would a Muslim who’s committed to sharia be good on gay rights? How about abortion? How about the war on women?

Here, for instance, is just a random vignette from Saudi Arabia this week, where a 21-year-old activist is scheduled to be beheaded—and then crucified—for “anti-God” activities. This isn’t extra-legal terrorism we’re talking about. This isn’t “all Muslims are terrorist monsters.” It’s simply window into what life can look like under a reasonably strict Muslim regime.

Of course people on the American left want nothing to do with conservative Islam as a political force in this country. It’s the sort of thing they can pretend to admire from the safety of Williamsburg only because they know the chances of having a “real” Muslim president are next to zero.

Tom Rogan has some advice for Carly Fiorina: follow the model of Marco Rubio when pronouncing on foreign policy.
Rubio outlined Putin’s strategic aims in Syria: protecting Bashar al-Assad but also displacing America’s relationships with its traditional allies. And he was correct to do so. President Obama’s Middle Eastern policy is like a kite flailing in the wind. Putin knows he has the credibility to usurp America’s position as the regional power broker. Some White House supporters say this doesn’t matter — that the U.S. should encourage Putin to take ownership of Middle Eastern chaos. But the absolute opposite is true. For reasons of regional stability, human rights, and crucial American security, America must retain its central role in the Middle East.

#share#In contrast to Rubio, Fiorina offered tactics rather than strategic analysis. The former HP CEO said she would end contact with Putin, send more troops to Germany, and strengthen the U.S. Navy’s carrier presence in Europe. It all sounds good, but in overall strategic terms these proposals are paper thin. First, ignoring the Russians — and offending their pride — is unwise. Russia respects strength, but it also responds to respect. Second, if the U.S. is to deter Russia while also encouraging the EU to spend more on defense, sending more personnel to Germany won’t help. Third, sending large U.S. carrier strike groups into the Mediterranean isn’t necessarily a great idea; sending attack submarines is a better alternative. That said, Fiorina’s most problematic suggestion was that Putin’s Syria strategy has been designed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards general, Qassem Soleimani. This is simply untrue. Soleimani’s outreach to Moscow is well documented, but Putin is in Syria because it advances Russia’s interests, not because Iran sent him. Putin plays the leading role in this partnership. After all, Syria has been a Russian ally since it became a Soviet client state in the early 1970s.

Even at this early point in the campaign, candidates need to grasp tough foreign-policy issues. Presidential debates help in sorting out who is up to the task. Fiorina and Rubio are front-runners to become the next president of the United States. Both are driven, eloquent, and intelligent. But to build credibility with future foreign allies and foes, these candidates must avoid platitudes. Instead, they must lay out an overarching U.S. strategy. We’ve seen where platitudes — Obama’s infamous and disappearing “red lines” — get us. They have eviscerated America’s credibility around the world. Republicans must avoid making the same mistake.

For those who cast doubt on the media reports that the IAEA had agreed to allow Iran the authority to produce its own samples for inspection, cast that doubt aside.
The chief of the U.N. nuclear agency acknowledged Monday that samples used to determine whether Iran tried to develop a nuclear weapon were collected by the Iranians instead of agency experts, but insisted the probe stands up to strict agency standards.

Such sampling of soil, air or dust from equipment is usually done by the International Atomic Energy Agency's own experts. But IAEA chief Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iranians carried out that part of the probe at Parchin, where the agency suspects that explosive triggers for nuclear weapons might have been tested in the past.
Yeah, because Iran has proven itself to be so very trustworthy.

Eliana Johnson has a behind-the-scenes look at why Scott Walker dropped out. His campaign had just spent too much money it didn't have. And he didn't want to go into debt. It sounds like he had a truly stupid campaign manager, Rick Wiley, who spent money as if this were the lead candidate in March.
The reason the money had disappeared, many say, is that the campaign treated the first two months of a long campaign like the closing months of an election. Walker’s organization, with Wiley at the helm, had bloated to 90 people. The Washington Post reporter assigned to follow the governor on the campaign trail marveled at campaign events that were, in her words, “elaborately staged,” even in small-town Iowa. There was a personal photographer, a public-relations firm, and an entourage of aides and staffers that seemed to follow the governor everywhere he went.

Staffers sounded the alarm. “Many people had raised the issue,” says one Walker staffer. In particular, there were murmurs about Marco Rubio’s campaign, which has just 30 people on staff, and “comments about [Jeb] Bush’s campaign being smaller than ours.”

“You could tell that there was just no way to maintain them,” says the same campaign staffer. Nonetheless, imposing cost and spending controls quickly proved difficult. “The financial problems caught up to them and they had to make a decision, either go into debt and continue on, or take the high road and wrap it up,” says one Walker loyalist. The alternative was going into debt and outsourcing many of a campaign’s traditional functions to a Super PAC; the one supporting Walker was on track to raise $40 million. But, says the Walker loyalist, “It’s long odds to win the nomination if everything goes right, but it’s even longer if you have to turn everything over to a super PAC.”
I wonder if Wiley will ever get hired again since it certainly sounds as if he destroyed Walker's hopes. And Walker deserves the blame for inadequate supervision of how the money was being spent. If I heard that a candidate were hiring Wiley, that would be an immediate mark against the candidate's judgment.

Ramesh Ponnuru puts forth his ideas of why both Scott Walker and Tim Pawlenty had such a hard time.
But I think personality was the least of the problems for both of these candidates. If you think of the GOP as split between the establishment, anti-establishment conservatives, and Republican regulars in the middle, both Pawlenty and Walker were trying to appeal to that middle group while picking up some support from each of the ends. On paper that ought to be possible, but it never seems to work. The establishment-oriented voters want a very familiar face, not a new one. The anti-establishment voters want somebody angrier or purer than a governor can be. The middle-of-the-road voters aren’t paying a lot of attention half a year out. And the candidate who seems like he could unify the party ends up having to leave early.

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Ashe Schow recounts a typical story of how a college, Middlebury in Vermont, treats a young man accused of sexual assault and how they used a lower standard of evidence to judge the student than they want for themselves when he turned around and sued them.
So, to recap, when accusing students of a felony, a low threshold of evidence is okay, but when accused of unfairness, Middlebury wants the charges to clear a higher bar. Nice legal double standard, if you can get it.

The advocates of campus kangaroo courts will surely groan about the difference between a "college disciplinary panel" and a "court of law." But the difference here is between a felony charge and a lawsuit over unfair treatment. This student was not accused of cheating on a test; he was accused (by a non-student, I might add) of a crime. To make matters worse, the accusation was made while the accused student was on a study-abroad program, and the administrators of that program found him "not responsible."

But after the student returned to the campus, the accuser threatened to file a complaint with the Department of Education. It was then that the college decided to re-investigate the accusation in order to find the student responsible and save itself from a federal investigation.
So the college decided it was better to ruin the life of this young man than accept the investigation of the people on the scene of the program in which the accused assault happened. Thus the Department of Education has endangered the rights of any young man in college these days.

Wait for this to become the latest demand from liberals seeking ways to ensure that lazy citizens will still find their ways to the polls to vote for Democrats.
Automatic registration, otherwise known as “universal registration” was adopted in March in Oregon, where Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and the Democratic-led legislature approved the nation’s first “opt-out” registration system. On the heels of that victory, progressives in 17 states and the District of Columbia, plus both houses of Congress, introduced similar bills. In June, Hillary Clinton floated the idea of automatically registering all 18-year-olds.

California’s Democratically-controlled Senate enacted the California New Motor Voter Program on Sept. 10, followed by the House on Sept. 11. Gov. Jerry Brown was expected to sign it. Under the new law, all adult citizens who get a driver’s license, renew a license, obtain a state identification card, or file a change of address form with the Department of Motor Vehicles will be automatically registered to vote. As with Oregon’s law, people can opt out. For now.

For people, myself included, who thought that Super PACs devoted to individual candidates might keep candidates from dropping out of the race, Walker's decision to drop out clarifies why that isn't so.
"I think the whole super PAC deal is nothing until you get to Iowa," Ray Washburne, a former Republican National Committee finance chairman who now heads fundraising for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey (R), told The New York Times. "Between now and then, you need to have hard money."

Indeed, as The Times reported, the Walker-aligned "Unintimidated" super PAC was on track to raise more than $40 million by the end of the year. But super PACs cannot pay campaign staff, rent, phone bills, or the cost of flying across the country to campaign for president. Moreover, they are subject to higher rates for advertising on television.

The ramifications could be significant. Much of the Republican field has turned to a super-PAC-heavy model. The groups backing former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas (R), who was the first to drop out of the field, raised more than $12 million. But he wasn't able to pay his staff, and his inability to break through a crowded field as a candidate left the outside group unable to pick up the grassroots elements typically left to a campaign.

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Hillary Clinton has used her influence with the DNC to do everything possible to limit the number of debates and the impact that they might have. Greg Sargent, a liberal, reports on how the DNC announced that there would be only si debates. And the schedule is set to minimize their impact.
The dates of the debates were announced in August. It was at that point that outrage really began to build, because the dates themselves created a situation that began to be seen as problematic. (Those dates are October 13, November 14th, December 19th, January 17th, and two in February or March that are not nailed down yet.)

The problem is that of the four debates that are actually scheduled, three come on weekends (as opposed to during weeknight prime time), one of them on the weekend between the end of Hanukkah and Christmas. The two remaining (as yet unscheduled) debates are in February or March, one on Univision and the other on PBS. Between those two and the one in January, there will be only three Dem debates in 2016, during the period in which Democrats will be voting in dozens of contests — from the early contests through the big state primaries in early and mid March, a period that could very well settle the outcome. By contrast, Republicans have six debates scheduled throughout that period, many on major networks.

As it is, the GOP debates are drawing very big audiences. It’s true that this is due to the Trump carnival — making this in some ways a negative for the GOP. But the positive side for the GOP is that enormous numbers of voters are seeing the other GOP candidates in strong moments, which is good both for GOP organizing in the primaries and for giving them and their ideas exposure beyond the GOP primary audience. Add to this the imbalance in the number of debates in this 2016 window, when voters are seriously tuning in, and Dems risk ceding the airwaves and squandering a chance to build excitement and engage more voters, some party officials have argued.

“Left unchecked, the superior RNC schedule could easily reach 50 to 100 million more eyeballs than the current Democratic schedule — meaning tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of lost opportunities to persuade, engage and excite the audiences all Democrats will need to win in 2016,” argues Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg.

Fixing this problem could involve rejiggering the schedule of Dem debates so more take place in that critical window, or adding a few more in that window, or a combination of the two.

It’s not clear how this will shake out. The DNC appears to be digging in behind its schedule. Clinton won’t clarify whether she actively wants more debates, and her campaign very well may not want that at all, given the details of the tick-tock I’ve laid out above. Even if the DNC’s original decision to set six debates is somewhat defensible, given how this all unfolded, things seem to be spiraling out of the committee’s control, now that we have the schedule itself and now that we’re seeing huge audiences tuning in to the GOP debates.

The criticism may escalate, putting the DNC — and Clinton — in an increasingly difficult position. The Clinton camp, by claiming openness to more debates, has given the DNC a way out. But it’s unclear whether the committee will take it.

Bret Stephens has a recommendation for Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Maybe you’re even thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice to be America for one day?

Yes, America, perhaps the only country on earth that can be serially led by second- or third-rate presidents—and somehow always manage to come up trumps (so to speak). America, where half of the college-age population can’t find New York state on a map—even as those same young Americans lead the world in innovation. America, where Cornel West is celebrated as an intellectual, Miley Cyrus as an artist, Jonathan Franzen as a novelist and Kim Kardashian as a beauty—and yet remains the cultural dynamo of the world.

America, in short, which defies every ethic of excellence—all the discipline and cunning and delicacy and Confucian wisdom that are the ways by which status and power are gained in China—yet manages to produce excellence the way a salmon spawns eggs. Naturally. By way of a deeper form of knowing.

This is indeed the kind of country it would be good to be, at least for a while. In Beijing, the smartest people at the top are working harder than ever to produce increasingly mediocre results. In Washington, the dumbest people ever keep lollygagging their way to glory. When a man, or a country, gets lucky every time, it’s not luck. There’s a secret. Would you like to know it?

Start with the basics, President Xi. The United States solved the problem of political legitimacy through its foundational acts. You still haven’t. We have no umbrella revolutions here, as you just did in Hong Kong. We don’t run the risk of peasant revolts, either, because (the Jim Crow South aside) we never had peasants. They were always citizens, and largely freeholders.

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