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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cruising the Web

Well, this is extremely worrisome and doesn't give us any faith in our nation's ability to vet immigrants.
Dozens of the U.S. citizens arrested in recent years on terror-related charges are immigrants admitted to the United States legally who later obtained citizenship.

More than 70 U.S. residents have been publicly arrested and charged with conspiring to help, attempting to help, or actually helping terror networks such as Islamic State in recent years. At least 15 of them received U.S. citizenship after being admitted to the country legally, including one of the Boston bombers.
There are several examples of immigrants who gained citizenship and then turned to terrorism. So far we've been lucky that they were caught before they were able to carry out their murderous plans. Pray that we continue to be lucky. But it demonstrates how difficult it is to vet applicants to predict what their tendencies are.

This story demonstrates how possible it is to admit future terrorists when admitting refugees.
Several dozen suspected terrorist bombmakers, including some believed to have targeted American troops, may have mistakenly been allowed to move to the United States as war refugees, according to FBI agents investigating the remnants of roadside bombs recovered from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The discovery in 2009 of two al Qaeda-Iraq terrorists living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky -- who later admitted in court that they'd attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq -- prompted the bureau to assign hundreds of specialists to an around-the-clock effort aimed at checking its archive of 100,000 improvised explosive devices collected in the war zones, known as IEDs, for other suspected terrorists' fingerprints.

"We are currently supporting dozens of current counter-terrorism investigations like that," FBI Agent Gregory Carl, director of the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), said in an ABC News interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline".

"I wouldn't be surprised if there were many more than that," said House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul. "And these are trained terrorists in the art of bombmaking that are inside the United States; and quite frankly, from a homeland security perspective, that really concerns me."

As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News – even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets. One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays, two U.S. officials said. In 2011, fewer than 10,000 Iraqis were resettled as refugees in the U.S., half the number from the year before, State Department statistics show.
Now add in the increased difficulties for Syria where we don't have access to fingerprints on IEDs. The government was willing to exercise extra caution once they realized that terrorists had gotten through their refugee screen. Now, with substantially less access to the sorts of records needed to screen refugees, Obama is refusing to work with Congressional Republicans to put more screens in place. Typical.

So President Obama threatens to veto any bill to add additional scrutiny to refugees coming in from Syria. And he's going to ask Democrats to support his veto and not vote to override. I wonder how many Democrats will decide that this is a position worth supporting. The WSJ writes,
This won’t be an easy vote for Democrats because most of the public is telling pollsters they oppose taking more refugees from Syria after one of the Paris jihadists hid among the migrants coming through Greece. This is not because Americans are hard-hearted. No country in human history has taken more refugees from the world’s horror shows.

Our guess is that the public simply doesn’t trust the Administration when it says the refugees will be thoroughly vetted. This is one result of the Administration’s disregard for federal immigration law. Mr. Obama’s press conference on Monday, in which he denounced anyone who opposed admitting more refugees, also doesn’t inspire confidence.

Some GOP presidential candidates have demagogued the refugee issue, but the House bill is a canny attempt to mitigate the worst of the anti-refugee populism. Rather than cut off funds for refugees, it would require that top federal officials certify that the refugees being admitted don’t pose security risks. It includes no religious test.

If Mr. Obama weren’t so intent on trashing all Republicans as cowards or racists, he’d realize that this measure might serve as a way for Republicans to mollify public opinion without shutting down all refugee entries. But this President prefers to puts his ideological vanity above prudent compromise.

But the administration just tells us to trust them to take care of this. James Taranto is quite skeptical.
To put it mildly, administrative competence has not been the hallmark of this administration. Obama has presided over, among other things, the abuses at the Internal Revenue Service, the Chinese hacking of millions of federal employees’ private records, and the scandal at the Veterans Administration. His administration could not even design a properly functioning website for its central ideological vanity project, the federal health-insurance exchange. It seems crazy to place one’s faith in its ability to do better even than the Greeks in vetting refugees.

Ben Domenech outlines the intellectual dishonesty of those pushing back at the movement to stop the plans to admit refugees from Syria.
Remember something as you watch the refugee coverage coming in the next few days, highlighting the xenophobia and underlying bigotry of Americans and particularly Republicans: the other side of this argument will not actually engage in a debate. They refuse to admit any possibility of cynicism or skepticism about the virtue of this approach. They jump right past the point of admitting that yes, some terrorists could be among this migrant population, and that yes, this could potentially lead to the deaths of hundreds or thousands of innocent American civilians. And in doing so, they skip right past the argument they would need to make – that those risks are worth it. They won’t even admit there are any risks. And that’s why their position – noble, pious, and insulated – will find little truck with Americans who have more practical concerns, such as: will any of these people try to kill me?

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Kenan Malik has a depressing essay in The Guardian looking at how neither the assimilationist policies of France and the multiculturalist policies in Britain succeeding in forestalling the rise of radical Muslims within each country.
An ideal policy would marry the beneficial aspects of the two approaches – celebrating diversity while treating everyone as citizens, rather than as simply belonging to particular communities. In practice, though, Britain and France have both institutionalised the more damaging features – Britain placing minorities into ethnic and cultural boxes, France attempting to create a common identity by treating those of North African origin as the Other. The consequence has been that in both Britain and France societies have become more fractured and tribal. And in both nations a space has been opened up for Islamism to grow.
I would like to think that things are going better for us in the U.S., but we are still seeing radicalized Muslims such as the Boston bombers and all the people who have left or tried to leave to fight with ISIS. I know that I have many Muslim students who are assimilated, but still hold their faith very closely. Some of them have been my very favorite students and I've been impressed with their intellectual curiosity and enjoyment about American government, politics, and history. I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and having them as students. I don't know what made the difference between their experiences and those of others. Perhaps it all came down to different parents and circumstances, but I really have no idea.

Timothy Carney reminds us how much Wall Street has always loved Hillary Clinton.
First off, Wall Street's love for Clinton pre-dates 9/11. On the day Clinton was sworn in to the Senate in January 2001, she had taken more campaign money from Wall Street than any of her fellow 99 senators in their last election. Note that 9/11 had not happened yet.

In funds from the narrower "securities and investment" industry within finance, Clinton was No. 2 upon her election. Citigroup was Clinton's top source of funds in 2000. Goldman Sachs was in third place....

As soon as he was allowed, her husband lined up well-paid speeches from banks, earning a quarter million combined from Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse in February 2001, his first full month out of office.

A month later, as David Sirota and Andrew Perez reported at the International Business Times, Clinton voted for the banking lobby's top priority, the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2001. The bill made it harder for people to discharge their credit card debt in the way bankrupt companies can discharge some of their corporate debt in restructuring. She had spoken against a nearly identical bill just months earlier.
The examples of her supporting policies favored by her wealthy donors from the banks and other Wall Street institutions go on and on. You'll remember that it was considered prima facie evidence of corruption from the Bush campaign because they had received donations from Enron big wigs even though there was no indication that Bush had done anything to help them out. With so much more evidence of sleaziness from Hillary, the Democrats are nevertheless silent. Even Bernie Sanders pulls his punches when he goes after her on this. Elizabeth Warren criticized her in the past, but won't come out now to take on the party's probable nominee. But I think that the Republicans are piling up all this evidence and wouldn't be surprised to see her terrible attempt to use 9/11 as an excuse for why she got so much money from Wall Street coupled with her clear catering to these donors come back in ads once the general election begins.

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I was wondering how long it would take before college students searching out for every trace of racist past to come around to one of my least favorite presidents. And now Princeton students have occupied the president's office to demand that all references to Woodrow Wilson from the university which has treasured its connection to Wilson. We'll see if this university president will have the backbone to resist this pressure.

Peter Wehner perfectly describes the arrogance of our "bitter and graceless president."
We all know people of towering arrogance and we all know people of staggering incompetence, but Barack Obama is quite possibly the perfect package. No one on the scene today combines these two qualities in quite the same way as Mr. Obama.

On the incompetence side, and sticking just with the president’s policies and record in the greater Middle East, there is Mr. Obama’s mishandling of the rise of the Islamic State, which just last year he referred to as the “jayvee team” and just last week declared was “contained.” Recall his threat to Syrian President Assad that if Assad used chemical weapons on his own people it would constitute crossing a “red line” (Assad did and Obama did nothing), and his stop-start-stop support for opposition forces in Syria.
The list of his foreign policy failures goes on and on. But that doesn't stop President Obama from attacking anyone who might criticize him.
Now most of us, with this almost unblemished record of ineptness, might feel some embarrassment. We might show a touch of self-reflection. And we would at least resist the temptation to lecture others. But not Mr. Obama. In his press conference in Turkey earlier this week, the president was prickly, petulant, condescending and small-minded....

If only the president could summon up this much passion and anger against oh, say, the Islamic State. Or the malevolent regimes of Iran and Syria. But no; it’s the Republicans for whom Mr. Obama has special antipathy. What a lovely touch, too, using soldiers who are paralyzed and without limbs to try to shut his critics down. And since we’re dealing with Obama, there is the requisite “my critics are playing political games while my motives are as pure as the new-driven snow.”

By now it’s all quite predictable and quite tiresome. Even the president’s own peculiar psychological habits – his tendency to project, his narcissism and seething resentment in reaction to criticisms, his inability to see reality when reality conflicts with his rigid and dogmatic views – are tedious because they are so commonly on display.

Walter Russell Mead exposes the deep cynicism of Obama's plans to bring in Syrian refugees.
To see the full cynicism of the Obama approach to the refugee issue, one has only to ask President Obama’s least favorite question: Why is there a Syrian refugee crisis in the first place?

Obama’s own policy decisions—allowing Assad to convert peaceful demonstrations into an increasingly ugly civil war, refusing to declare safe havens and no fly zones—were instrumental in creating the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn. For him to try and use a derisory and symbolic program to allow 10,000 refugees into the United States in order to posture as more caring than those evil Jacksonian rednecks out in the benighted sticks is one of the most cynical, cold-blooded, and nastily divisive moves an American President has made in a long time.

Moreover, many of those “benighted” people were willing to sign up for the U.S. military and go to fight ISIS in Syria to protect the refugees. Many Americans who now oppose the President’s ill-considered refugee program have long supported the use of American power to create “safe zones” in Syria so the refugees could be sheltered and fed in their own country. If President Obama seriously cared about the fate of Syria’s millions of displaced people, he would have started to organize those safe havens years ago. And if he understood the nature of America’s role in Europe, he would have known that working with the Europeans to prevent a mass refugee and humanitarian disaster was something that had to be done....

The collapse of President Obama’s Syria policy is hardly a partisan issue. He has repeatedly overruled his own national security officials, top diplomats, and advisors, many of whom have been horrified by the President’s passivity in the face of onrushing disaster. His abrupt policy switch on airstrikes left many senior Democrats who had supported his apparent determination to enforce his “red line” against Assad twisting in the wind.

To think that conspicuous moral posturing and holy posing over a symbolic refugee quota could turn President Obama from the goat to the hero of the Syrian crisis is absurd. Wringing your hands while Syria turns into a hell on earth, and then taking a token number of refugees, can be called many things, but decent and wise are not among them. You don’t have to be a xenophobe or a racist or even a Republican to reject this President’s leadership on Syria policy. All you need for that is common sense and a moral compass.

And it’s worse. The Obama Administration’s extreme caution about engagement in Syria led it to insist on such a thorough process of vetting potential Syrian allies that years of effort and tens of millions of dollars resulted in only a paltry handful of people being found acceptable to receive American weapons and training. The refugee vetting process won’t be nearly this thorough; it’s almost certain that the President’s program will result in settling people in the United States who could not be certified to fight for the United States in Syria. Given our gun laws, uncertified Syrians living in the United States will soon have the opportunity to get weapons that the United States government would refuse to give them in Syria. To millions of Americans, this is a double standard they can neither understand nor accept. To call people troubled by these concerns racists and xenophobes is to divide and polarize this country in ways that will cost us all dearly down the road.
Very well argued. But our petulant president will never acknowledge how his own choices have contributed to this humanitarian crisis. Instead, he'll make fun of legitimate concerns about admitting unvettable refugees as Republicans being afraid of widows and children. I keep thinking that he's plumbed the depths or arrogant and self-congratulatory wrong-headedness and incompetence, and then he digs even deeper.

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Here is a depressing statistic, but it's not one that surprises me.
One side effect of the 2007-09 recession was a surge in college attendance. Nearly 3 million Americans enrolled in college in the fall of 2009,1 half a million more than two years earlier. Some of those were new high school graduates who would have gone straight to work if jobs were available. Others were older workers who lost jobs and went back to school to learn new skills or even to qualify for student loans to cover living expenses.

Six years later, we are starting to get the first clear look at how all those students fared, and the numbers aren’t pretty. According to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, barely half — 52.9 percent — of students who enrolled in fall 2009 had earned a bachelor’s or associate degree six years later. That’s down from a completion rate of 56.1 percent for the students who enrolled in 2007. (Graduation rates were especially low for students at for-profit colleges.)

Ah, Harry Reid. He's always looking for the federal government to supply what the people need even when what we need, apparently, is a portrait of...Harry Reid.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) objected to legislation that would prevent taxpayer funding from going towards oil paintings for members of government such as Harry Reid, Wednesday.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.) attempted to pass his bill to ban funding for official portraits of the president, vice president, cabinet members, and Congress by unanimous consent. Reid, who is retiring after his term ends in 2016, objected, preventing the legislation’s passage. The Senate honors its former majority and minority leaders with portraits after they leave office.
Come on. There must be some rich Democrat who'd like shell out the money for a Reid portrait. Reid and his sons have made a fortune while working in public service; he could pay for the portrait.

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Since Obama has been president, his party has suffered tremendous losses at every level other than the White House. So now the party is trying to stem these losses while still not putting any blame on Obama.
During the Obama administration, the Democrats have lost 11 governorships, 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 House seats and 910 state legislative seats. A Gallup poll measuring trends in party affiliation since 2004 found 29 percent of Americans identified as Democrats in October, compared to 38 percent in March 2009 after Mr. Obama first took office.

Members of the DNC group that put together the report, dubbed the Democratic Victory Task Force, deflected any criticism of the president’s policy or agenda as the reason for the losses, placing an emphasis on voter turnout instead.
Perhaps it will work, but it's going to be hard to drive up those turnout numbers to the level they were with Obama on the ballot. And, as Samule Hammond writes, these Democrats seem to be ignoring the structural reasons why the have been losing those elections.
The Republican victories across state governments have been 30 years in the making. It has not been due to the stratagems of Newt Gingrich or other top party operatives, either. Rather, it’s the result of a bottom up-process that no task force or party consultant could ever hope to design.

The disparity between the two parties comes down to one of basic temperament. Rural and suburban Republicans tend to be church goers, belong to community organizations, run for school boards, and so on. In short, they come predisposed to the sort of localism and volunteerism that engenders robust civil society. These apolitical structures can then be grafted into support for political coalitions without needing cajoling from grand narratives and idealistic leaders. This is what explains the higher Republican turnout in off-year elections.

It’s not that liberal Democrats don’t do these things. But with labor unions in terminal decline, liberals have few other places to turn outside of direct activism. The typical liberal urbanite can’t help but approach close-knit communities with some mixture of suspicion and ironic detachment. In rejecting the content of social conservatism, liberals have also rejected its form—and thus the ability to construct grassroots organizations that last longer than a flash in the pan. The Unitarian church is the ultimate example. While its message of humanism and pluralism is noble and rings true to many on the Left, it is anything but an effective unit of social mobilization.
So Democrats have focused more on national issues and using the federal government to impose mandates.
Federalism demands a broad diffusion of power, not just in the trinity of executive, judiciary and legislative branches, but more importantly through the devolution of power in nested hierarchies: state and local governments, community organizations, and civil society of all types.
It's an interesting thesis. I'd like to see more research on this topic. I'm starting our unit on federalism tomorrow and one of the first topics are the advantages and disadvantages of a federalist system. One argument is that having a federalist system increases the access points for citizens into their government and so increases civic engagement. I don't see any lack of civic involvement from Democrats here in Raleigh, so that is why I have my doubts about Hammond's argument. But then, we've also seen a Republican takeover of the state legislature and governorship for the first time in North Carolina's history. So maybe there is something like this going on.

Al Gore is still carrying a grudge against the Clintons.
At least four times in the past year, Al Gore has passed up opportunities to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, brushing off questions from People magazine and other media outlets with the admonition that it’s still too early in the Democratic primary process for him to take sides. On Monday, an aide to the former vice president told POLITICO he’ll stay on the sidelines until his party has selected its nominee.

Gore’s reticence, his friends and allies say, is in part to maximize his own leverage on fighting climate change. But his repeated demurrals also reflect a complicated relationship with his former boss’s wife that dates back more than two decades. While Gore and Hillary Clinton may not be enemies, they’re not exactly close friends, either.

“They have a lot of history. More than the average bear,” said one Democratic source close to Gore.

The Hillary Clinton-Gore rivalry started when the two baby boomer policy wonks arrived in the White House in 1993. Gore got the new administration’s environmental and technology portfolios. Bill Clinton raised eyebrows by assigning his wife what would become an ill-fated attempt to pass comprehensive health-care reform legislation.

“Usually you give your vice president something of that level. You don’t give it to the first lady,” recalled a former Clinton White House staffer. “People forget that sort of started the relationship on a downward spiral early on.”
I don't think his endorsement would make one bit of difference; the endorsement of very few people would make a difference in any election. But I still find it amusing.

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