Monday, December 14, 2015

Cruising the Web

So that vetting system that we're supposed to have so much faith in missed out that Tashfeen Malik, the wifely half of the San Bernardino murderers, was posting her support for violent jihad on social media. Apparently, DHS doesn't review social media when they're doing background checks and they don't even think they should be doing so.
The discovery of the old social media posts has exposed a significant — and perhaps inevitable — shortcoming in how foreigners are screened when they enter the United States, particularly as people everywhere disclose more about themselves online. Tens of millions of people are cleared each year to come to this country to work, visit or live. It is impossible to conduct an exhaustive investigation and scour the social media accounts of each of them, law enforcement officials say....

In an era when technology has given intelligence agencies seemingly limitless ability to collect information on people, it may seem surprising that a Facebook or Twitter post could go unnoticed in a background screening. But the screenings are an example of the trade-offs that security officials make as they try to mitigate the threat of terrorism while keeping borders open for business and travel....

Ms. Malik faced three extensive national security and criminal background screenings. First, Homeland Security officials checked her name against American law enforcement and national security databases. Then, her visa application went to the State Department, which checked her fingerprints against other databases. Finally, after coming to the United States and formally marrying Mr. Farook here, she applied for her green card and received another round of criminal and security checks.

Ms. Malik also had two in-person interviews, federal officials said, the first by a consular officer in Pakistan, and the second by an immigration officer in the United States when she applied for her green card.

All those reviews came back clear, and the F.B.I. has said it had no incriminating information about Ms. Malik or Mr. Farook in its databases. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have said they followed all policies and procedures. The departments declined to provide any documentation or specifics about the process, saying they cannot discuss the case because of the continuing investigation.

Meanwhile, a debate is underway at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that approves visas and green cards, over whether officers conducting interviews should be allowed to routinely use material gathered from social media for interviews where they assess whether foreigners are credible or pose any security risk. With that issue unresolved, the agency has not regularly been using social media references, federal officials said.
I'm sure that we can all understand how burdensome it would be to do such checks. But then don't pooh-pooh people's concerns about how those checks are being done. And how interesting that Facebook, which removed a post quoting Golda Meir, didn't do anything about Malik's posting and all the other anti-American postings that crop up on the social media site. And, of course, no one singles out such posts to Facebook. Would it be too much like profiling for DHS to do a search of social media for visa applicants coming from places that are hotbeds of anti-American feeling such as Pakistan?

While the administration and its media fans celebrate the climate agreement, remember that it is totally unenforceable. And that is a feature, not a bug, according to John Kerry. They deliberately made the whole thing a toothless agreement in order to get all these countries to agree to something that they won't have to do.
While discussing the global climate change agreement made in Paris over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged on Fox News Sunday that there wouldn’t been an agreement at all if there were binding penalties for countries not meeting emissions standards.

President Obama, Kerry said, was determined to “get an agreement that would move the world in the right direction.” As such, Kerry said that the “best thing we can do” to get countries to reduce their carbon emissions was a “mandatory reporting requirement.”

In a bit of circular logic, Kerry said that countries would have to retool their reduction levels every five years to meet their commitments, but he couldn’t say there was anything beyond their own word to force them to so.

“The best thing we can do in an effort to try to change people’s thinking is to do this mandatory reporting requirement,” Kerry said. “The mandatory reporting requirement has to be updated every five years. Every five years, it is mandatory that countries retool their reduction levels in order to meet the demands of meeting the curve of reduction to which they have committed. So that is a serious form of enforcement, if you will, compliance. But there is no penalty for it, obviously, but if there had been a penalty, we wouldn’t have been able to get an agreement.”
In fact, Kerry has admitted that they deliberately avoided putting in mandatory targets for reductions because such a requirement would mean that the agreement would have to be submitted to the Senate for a two-thirds agreement to ratify the treaty. And they knew that was impossible so they settled to have the reductions be voluntary. Such is the fantasy world in which this administration conducts diplomacy.

The WSJ explains the small likelihood that the climate agreement will ever be followed. A good part of it is based on the idea that wealthier countries will provide $100 billion a year to aid the developing world in fighting climate change.
So the governments of the West are now going to dun their taxpayers to transfer money to the clean and green governments run by the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. We can’t wait to see New York’s Chuck Schumer make the case on the Senate floor for American aid to China so it can become more energy efficient and economically competitive.

Even if a Democratic Congress made these bribes politically possible, they would do little to ease the consequences of climate change. The world’s poor can best cope with climate harm if they are richer, which requires faster economic growth. Yet everything we know about economic development is that foreign aid retards growth when it expands the reach of Third World governments. Poor countries won’t be helped by subsidies for solar cells delivered through the World Bank.
We're still waiting for all the investment by the Bush and Obama administrations to pay off in new green energy technologies.

And does anyone believe that countries that didn't meet the binding targets from the Kyoto Protocol are going to meet the voluntary goals in this agreement? Remember that Bill Clinton didn't even submit Kyoto to the Senate because he knew it wouldn't come anywhere near the two-thirds requirement for ratification of a treaty. That's why Obama didn't want a binding treaty that he would have to submit.
But no one is happier than President Obama, who would have to submit a binding treaty to the Senate for ratification. As we have learned from the Iran nuclear deal and so much else, Mr. Obama is not into winning democratic consent for his policy dreams. Mr. Obama plans to use Paris as a stick to beat Republicans even as he ducks a vote in Congress. We doubt the Paris climate deal would get 40 Senate votes once Democrats in Ohio, Colorado or North Dakota were forced to debate the costs.

Mr. Obama’s U.S. CO2-reduction targets are fanciful in any case, short of a major technological breakthrough. The President promises that the U.S. will reduce carbon emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025, but the specific means he has proposed to get there would only yield about half that. And that’s assuming none of Mr. Obama’s unilateral regulatory policies are declared illegal by U.S. courts.

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In case you were wondering, this is how a GOP brokered convention would work. Contrary to how Trump and Carson have interpreted the prospect, it has nothing to do with the leadership keeping the nomination from anyone in particular. It involves the individual delegates voting for their choice after the first ballot which binds them to vote for the candidate whom they are bound to.

David Byler at RCP explains
how the Republicans' Rule 40 doesn't mean what it seems to mean. The rule says that a candidate much have the majority of delegates from eight different states or territories in order to win the nomination. Except, as Byler points out, the GOP can change the rule at will a week before the convention. So it's an apparently important rule that actually is meaningless. Why have rules if they're going to throw them out if they prove inconvenient?

Kevin Williamson reminds us that whoever the next president might be, including Trump and Cruz, that person will be able to exercise the executive powers that President Obama has been wielding so arrogantly. He runs around bragging that he has a pen and will use it. Well, because of the precedents he has set, future presidents will have more power to use that pen than ever before.
President Obama’s operating principle is: If Congress won’t do what I want, I’ll do it on my own through executive orders, Constitution be damned. The president’s approach here has to be understood in the wider context of the Democratic party’s newfound commitment to totalitarianism: attempting to repeal the First Amendment, seeking to lock people up for expressing unpopular political opinions, proposing that Americans be stripped of their constitutional rights (with no due process, trial, or appeal) if the president puts their names on a secret list, outlawing unapproved criticism of political figures by private citizens, denouncing political opponents as “traitors” and demanding that nonconformists be punished for “disloyalty” while making glib references to martial law, etc.

President Obama ran as the great civil libertarian — remember all that stink about the PATRIOT Act and library cards? — and commenced to out-Cheney the cartoon version of Dick Cheney that exists in the Democratic imagination: comprehensive domestic espionage, more drones than an apiary convention, massive (and massively illegal) electronic surveillance, etc. He didn’t close down Gitmo, he fought an illegal and unauthorized war in Libya and has just reinvaded Iraq; even Darth Cheney never went to the New York Times to brag about assassinating American citizens, as Obama’s subcomandantes have. (Links in original)

....If Steven Hayes of the Weekly Standard can be deprived of his constitutional rights because his name appears on a secret presidential list, then so can Paul Krugman or Rachel Maddow. If the Second Amendment can be treated as optional at the president’s discretion, then so can the First. If Pfizer can be sanctioned by the federal government for making entirely legal and ethical business decisions that the president doesn’t like, so can Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. If President Obama can circumvent Congress in both domestic and international affairs simply because he’s unhappy with the way the people’s elected representatives are conducting their business, then so can President Cruz, President Rubio, President Fiorina . . .

Or, angels and ministers of grace defend us, President Trump. Last week, the civically illiterate reality-television grotesque declared before a meeting of a policemen’s union that one of his first acts in office would be to issue an executive order mandating capital punishment for anybody convicted of murdering a police officer. Never mind that the president has no such power and that Trump doesn’t seem to understand the difference between state and federal law; we have so quickly accustomed ourselves to believing that anything that sounds good to us is right and proper (“constitutional” in 2015 anno Domini means “I like it”) that no one other than a few persnickety constitutionalists ... even bothered to note how nuts Trump’s promise is. In this, as in many things, Trump resembles Barack Obama and the Clinton mob, who have been, it bears remembering, his traditional political allies.
Sadly, so much of what conservatives have detested about the Obama presidency now seems a prime selling point when Donald Trump talks about doing it. As Rick Wilson wrote a while back, Trump's followers love the exact same qualities that they loathed when Obama did it.
You hated Barack Obama’s cult-like followers, with their mindless stares of adoration, their impervious barrier between emotion and reason, and their instant fury when confronted with the facts about his record, his history, or his philosophy.

But you love it from Trump.

You hated Obama’s shallow, facile rhetoric, with its hollow promises and loose, lowest-common-denominator word-vomit disconnected from any real policy.

But you love it from Trump.

You hated how Obama was gleefully lying to credulous low information voters, filling them with empty promises of economic prosperity that would never come, based on plans that could never be achieved.

But you love it from Trump.

You hated how Obama lied about his positions on single-payer healthcare, gay marriage, gun control, and abortion to get elected, knowing that if he ever revealed the truth about what he believed that he’d be unelectable.

But you love it from Trump.
The list goes on and on.

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Of course, Obama let the White House Chanukah ceremony be hijacked by a leftist rabbi who went on a long rant about every leftist cause and demonstrated how little respect Obama has for Jews that he let a religious moment be hijacked for politics including some political causes offensive to many Jews.
Rabbi Susan Talve essentially hijacked the event to praise a series of leftist causes, touching many of the Obama administration's pet projects along the way: open-ended immigration and "refugee" acceptance; Black Lives Matter "activists"; gun control; paranoia over "Islamophobia, and homophobia and transphobia"; and "justice for Palestinians as allies committed to peace."
After her stated support for Palestinians, she repeated "Ins'Allah" four times. Apparently, she thought it was appropriate to refer to Allah in the middle of a Jewish ceremony. Obama's choice of her to speak at the ceremony and his silence after she spoke in typical of his back-of-the-hand approach to Israel throughout his presidency. He would never bring And, of course, the Associated Press report ignored the whole episode in their report of the candle-lighting.

Clarice Feldman turns around
one of the President's favorite tropes, "that's not who we are" by saying that "Obama's actions are not what we are." He insults our allies and embraces enemies. He continually acts beyond the constitutional powers of the executive. He has spoken up about cases before the courts before the facts are known. He often ignores the victims of terrorism by not sending anyone to memorials for victims such as James Foley and the victims in San Bernardino, but he sent one to the funeral for Michael Brown, the man shot dead by police in Ferguson.

The Committee for Justice cites 25 violations of law by President Obama and his administration.

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So Trump has decided to go after Ted Cruz. But he has chosen a really bizarre line of attack by questioning his bona fides as an evangelical saying,
"I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba," he told the crowd at a town hall event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. "Not a lot come out."

The father of the Texas senator, who has appealed to the born-again believers in the Hawkeye State, escaped from Cuba as a young adult. Both of Cruz's parents come from traditionally Catholic backgrounds, but Cruz grew up Southern Baptist.
Really? Is that how Trump thinks to appeal to Iowa evangelicals by asserting that there is something suspicious if someone of Cuban descent is an evangelical Christian. This from the guy who denied that he asks God for forgiveness, but did finally say,
“When we go in church and I drink the little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and I eat the little cracker — I guess that’s a form of asking forgiveness,” Mr. Trump said.
Then he professed amazement at Ben Carson's story of spending time in the bathroom contemplating his sins and then coming out feeling God's grace. I'm not an evangelical Christian, but it seems that Trump has absolutely no idea how they believe yet feels fine casting doubt on other people's religious beliefs.

Jay Nordlinger, who has made one of his particular causes the reporting of civil liberties abuses in Cuba, is amazed at Trump's assertion about Cuban evangelicals.
Huh? I have reported on Cuba — particularly its dissidents — for a long time. A lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba, and a lot of them are in the Castros’ dungeons. I remember interviewing a dissident named RenĂ© Montes de Oca in 2001. This was an unusual interview in that he was on the lam. He called me between his escape from prison and his recapture. He was a fervent believer, movingly so. He was a Pentecostalist.

Do Trump’s fans care how ignorant or insulting their candidate is? That seems part of his very appeal to them. Which is interesting.
Nordlinger goes on to note that a Saudi prince, Alwaleed bin Talal, is bashing Trump on Twitter. Talk about being lucky with his enemies - Americans probably like a guy that a Saudi prince is angry at. Nordlinger writes,
You know who I’m not prepared to take lectures from — certainly on the subject of graces and disgraces? Members of the House of Saud. Among their political prisoners is Raif Badawi. By the evidence, he is a great man, unlike his jailers and torturers. Badawi was imprisoned in 2012, for the crime of calling for basic human rights in his country. He was publicly caned — hit with 50 blows outside a mosque. A thousand more blows are promised. The prisoner is in miserable physical and mental shape.

Luckily, he was recently awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, by the European Parliament. Maybe this will help to prolong his life.

There is a mosque on virtually every street corner of the democratic West. And the number of churches in Saudi Arabia? Ha ha. The number of synagogues? Ha ha ha ha.

In Saudi Arabia, the penalty for possession of a Bible is expulsion. That’s if you’re a foreigner. The penalty if you’re a citizen is death — by beheading.

Let us have no more lectures from Saudi royals on human rights, civil rights, or any rights at all.

But there is this good news out of Saudi Arabia. In the first election during which women were allowed to vote and run, 20 women were elected to local government offices.

And Trump has a new charge against Cruz saying that he was "frankly a little bit of a maniac" in the Senate and didn't get along with people. Well, that's quite true. But is Trump the model of someone who knows how to get along with others/

Kristen Soltis Anderson examines whether or not current polls are valid or whether "something weird" is going on with the polls. One major problem is that they're not measuring who is going to show up to vote in the primaries. The way the polls are being conducted now, they would indicate that over half of all Republicans surveyed are going to vote in the primaries. They're polling as if almost all registered Republicans are going to turn out to vote. That is not what has ever happened before.

Anderson points to a Republican pollster, Adrian Gray, who breaks down poll results for New Hampshire into three groups from all NH GOP Voters, likely NH GOP voters, and Very likely NH GOP voters. The last group has about 170 fewer people being surveyed. Interestingly, those results show Trump's percentage of support going 21/19/17 in the three groups while Rubio goes from 17/18/19. Such results are very different from any of the polls used in RCP's average of polls for NH. No one has Rubio so close or even surpassing Trump. Who knows which way is right? But imagine how the conversation would be changing if Trump were showing up as second to Cruz in Iowa and second to Rubio in New Hampshire?

Of course, we don't know if the celebrity aspect of Trump's candidacy will indeed bring a lot more people out to vote in the GOP primaries than ever before?
But you do hear the constant refrain from Trump supporters that he’s “energizing them” in a way nobody has previously. Furthermore, the blockbuster viewership numbers for these presidential debates and the fact that the field is so large, so fractured, and that Trump is drawing so much attention to the contests, could very well mean that our definition of “likely voter” needs a re-think.

In 2008, Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses in part by re-making the electorate. Screen too tightly for likely voters based on past participation, and you can easily miss out on someone changing the game and bringing new people into the process.

It’s certainly the case that Trump’s supporters don’t necessarily look like “likely voters” as we know them. But it’s not impossible to think that Trump could re-shape what it means to be a “likely voter.” This is, after all, a very strange election indeed.

Mark Bowden, author of
Black Hawk Down, shares his recollections from spending a lot of time with Donald Trump back in 1996 for a profile in Playboy Magazine. He paints a portrait of a self-absorbed man who treated those who worked for him with insults and peremptory orders and temper tantrums when he didn't like their decisions.
He was like one of those characters in an 18th-century comedy meant to embody a particular flavor of human folly. Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression. Who could have predicted that those very traits, now on prominent daily display, would turn him into the leading G.O.P. candidate for president of the United States?
Bowden closes with this interesting little moment from after the article came out.
I got a call from his office some days after my profile of him appeared in the May 1997 issue of Playboy. I had already heard how he’d blown his stack to Christie Hefner. I was traveling at the time, working on my book Black Hawk Down. The call came to me in a motel room in Colorado, from his trusty assistant, the late Norma Foerderer.

“Mr. Trump would like to talk to you,” she said.

I waited, sitting on the edge of the bed, bracing myself.

Foerderer came back on the line. She said:

“He’s too livid to speak.”
Ah, the presidential temperament.

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George Will describes what will happen in the future as local governments seek to raise the money to pay for government services by looking at a small town, Pagedale, Missouri, with a poor population that doesn't provide much of a tax base to fund the government. So the government is trying to raise the money by fining as much behavior as bureaucrats can think of.
Pagedale residents are subject to fines if they walk on the left side of a crosswalk; if they have a hedge more than three feet high, a weed more than seven inches high, or any dead vegetation on their property; or if they park a car at night more than 500 feet from a street lamp or other source of illumination; or if windows facing a street do not have drapes or blinds that are “neatly hung, in a presentable appearance, properly maintained and in a state of good repair”; or if their houses have unpainted foundations or chipped or aging layers of paint (even on gutters); or if there are cracks in their driveways; or if on a national holiday — the only time a barbeque may be conducted in a front yard — more than two people are gathered at the grill or there are alcoholic beverages visible within 150 feet of the grill.

All this and much more is because Missouri's Legislature, noting excessive reliance on traffic tickets, put a low cap on the portion a community could raise of its budget from this source. So now 40 percent of Pagedale's tickets are for non-traffic offenses.
The wonderful Institute for Justice is now taking the case to challenge whether such a policy violates the Due Process Clause.
The institute argues that the city is subordinating the administration of justice to the goal of generating revenue, even limiting court hours in order to cause people to fail to meet requirements, thereby subjecting them to more fines. But the city's pecuniary interest in particular judicial outcomes, which creates an appearance of bias, is not the crux of the argument that the city is violating the 14th Amendment guarantee that Americans shall not be deprived of life, liberty or property without “due process of law.” The entire nation should hope that this small city's pettiness will be stopped by a court that says this: The Due Process Clause, properly construed, prohibits arbitrary government action, particularly that which unjustifiably restricts individuals' liberties.
We all better hope that Pagedale wins its case or we may one day all worry about government fining us for our weeds growing too high.

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I just found this Twitter hashtag #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly and it has some very funny entries. John Groves provides is favorite example of explaining a film plot badly.

Ah, some hope to perhaps end one of the more idiotic decisions. The Department of the Treasury announced a delay in removing Alexander Hamilton from the 10-dollar bill to be replaced with a woman. The delay is not because the Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, realized that it would be a travesty to remove a man who more than any other is responsible for the financial viability of our nation. Unfortunately decision to delay is because they just can't decide which woman to put on the bill. I hope the delay can last long enough so that a new president can put a stop to it.

Tom Maguire catches the New York Times linking to a satire site to back up their position on limiting guns.

And here's a group looking to play a role in the election that I bet you never thought of.
The alien issue was really heating up in 1996, what with the summer blockbuster “Independence Day,” and Bassett worried someone else would get the same idea. So he quit his volunteer gig, piled his belongings atop his beat-up Mazda RX-7 and drove off to Washington.

“I get down there, and I file” the lobbyist papers, he recalled. “I’m the first one. Nineteen years later, I’m still the only one. I could have taken my time.”

Bassett, a balding man with expressive eyes that seem to go from blue to green, has long had one goal: Get the government to admit that it has been covering up proof of alien visits. It has been a lonely battle, but he is convinced that the stars have finally aligned for his convoluted theory, which involves the Clintons, their longtime adviser John Podesta and a now-deceased billionaire.

“I want to see disclosure by the New Hampshire primary,” he said brushing crumbs off his black dress shirt and purple tie during lunch at the National Press Club this month. “And I can make the case that it’s going to happen.”
So which candidate most appeals to those voting based on Roswell?

I must confess that when I saw the tagline from the SNL opening with Will Ferrell playing George W. Bush and saying, “You got to admit it’s a pretty good plot twist that I turned out out to be the smart one," that my first thought was that they were actually going to make fun of Barack Obama. I should have known better.