Monday, January 18, 2016

Cruising the Web

Well, of course. A Sunday evening after two NFL playoff games is the perfect night to schedule a Democratic debate. Because that is what the American people feel like watching on a Sunday night.

Ross Douthat has a typically perceptive column wondering what would happen if Bernie Sanders actually thought he had a chance at winning the nomination. He certainly hasn't run his campaign as if he truly wanted to win. If he were, he would be going after Hillary much more assiduously. There are plenty of avenues of attack to discredit her from the left. And she has a boatload of personal vulnerabilities that he could exploit. But he doesn't seem interested in doing that.
The reality is that an insurgent campaign that actually wants to beat Hillary Clinton would need to exploit vulnerabilities besides her insufficient zeal for a single-payer health care plan. It would need to go after her, instead, at the intersection of policy and character — by linking the Bernie-Hillary difference on financial reform to the sordidness of the Clinton Foundation’s global fund-raising, for instance, or by tying her recklessness with State Department emails to the fecklessness of the Libya intervention, and then linking that intervention to the issue that helped cost her the Democratic nomination in 2008, her Iraq-era hawkishness.

And such a line of attack would need to show some real passion, of the sort that infuses Sanders’s denunciations of Wall Streeters, billionaires and the 1 percent.
We haven't seen that yet from Bernie. Right now, a lot of his support is just because he's the only option other than Hillary. And people like him. He's enunciating positions that appeal to the left. But now that polls are tightening up, we'll see if he's really in this thing to win it.

This is a clever move by Trump. He's rented out an Iowa theater for free showings of the movie, 13 Hours. It sets him up as going against Hillary rather than other GOP candidates, something he wasn't doing earlier in the campaign. I do wonder how much the makers of the film like seeing it being co-opted into GOP politics and Trump's campaign.

Oh, those poor millionaires backing Jeb's campaign. They want to get out, but they just can't.
POLITICO talked to nearly two dozen major donors, and most say they are waiting for what one veteran Republican and former Bush 43 administration appointee described as the "family hall pass" to jump to another campaign after the New Hampshire primary.

“I’m resigned to it being over, frankly. It’s really disappointing,” said one top Bush Wall Street donor. “I’d urge him to get out after New Hampshire if he doesn’t do well, but he probably won’t."

Now the fundraising pitch is decidedly different.

"Hey, I need you to throw away money on Jeb — out of loyalty," a Bush fundraiser has told donors recently.
The whole article sounds like the Court courtiers waiting around for the death of the monarch while they're secretly kissing up to the heir-in-waiting. Although they don't sound very optimistic that either of their second choices - Rubio or Christie - have much of a chance against Trump or Cruz.

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The Daily Caller points out a really stupid mistake that Obama made about Ukraine in the SOTU.
“Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine’s and Syria – states they see slipping away from their orbit,” said Obama.

There’s a key discrepancy here: While Russia has been “pouring resources” into the conflict, it certainly has not been to “prop up” Ukrainian government, it has instead gone to those who seek to bring it down.
This was not something Obama said off the cuff. This was in the text of the speech. Think of how much the State of the Union speeches get vetted by all parts of an administration. And yet no one caught it. No one at the State Department or NSC noticed that the President, apparently, has a fundamental misunderstanding of Russia's actions on Ukraine. I guess they just don't care. Their actions in response have indicated their indifference. So why should we be surprised at how ignorant they seem to be.

So now we're releasing $1.7 billion for Iran plus lifting sanctions on them. And just by coincidence, they released some of the Iranian Americans that they have been holding. Of course, the administration denies that there is any connection between these two events. That's ridiculous. We just paid billions in ransom for the hostages that Iran has been holding.

The WSJ explains how lopsided
the deal was that freed our hostages. In addition to the $100 billion in frozen assets, they also got back some Iranians that we had been holding.
The timing of Iran’s Saturday release of the Americans is no accident. This was also implementation day for the nuclear deal, when United Nations sanctions on Tehran were lifted, which means that more than $100 billion in frozen assets will soon flow to Iran and the regime will get a lift from new investment and oil sales. The mullahs were taking no chances and held the hostages until President Obama’s diplomatic checks cleared.

We’re as relieved as anyone to see the four Americans coming home, though there was no legal basis for their arrests. Mr. Rezaian had been held since July 2014 and was convicted last year of espionage without evidence. The other freed Iranian-Americans include former Marine Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, a dual citizen whose detention wasn’t previously reported.

But the Iranians negotiated a steep price for their freedom. The White House agreed to pardon or drop charges against seven Iranian nationals charged with or convicted of crimes in the U.S., mostly for violating sanctions designed to retard Iran’s military or nuclear programs. Iran gets back men who were assisting its military ambitions while we get innocents. This is similar to the lopsided prisoner swaps that Mr. Obama previously made with Cuba for Alan Gross and the Taliban for alleged deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl....

The Obama Administration also agreed to drop the names of 14 Iranian nationals from an Interpol watch list. Most notable is the CEO of Mahan Air, an Iranian carrier sanctioned for transporting members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that is suspected of transferring arms to Bashar Assad’s regime.

The prisoner swap helps to solve the mystery of the Obama Administration’s December flip-flop on new sanctions against Tehran’s ballistic-missile program. The mullahs have twice tested long-range missiles in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution since the nuclear accord was signed in July.

The White House in December told Congress that it was preparing sanctions against 12 entities allegedly involved in the ballistic-missile program, then abruptly dropped the idea the same day. The Administration never explained the about-face and denied that the delay was political.

But Reuters reported Saturday that the U.S. stood down after “Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the move could derail a prisoner deal the two sides had been negotiating in secret for months.” On Sunday, with the Americans home, the U.S. went ahead with very limited sanctions against 11 entities and individuals for procuring components for the missile program, but Iran has promised to accelerate its missile deployments in any case.

All of this shows that the nuclear accord is already playing out as critics predicted. The West will tread gingerly in challenging Iran’s nonnuclear military and regional ambitions lest it renege on its nuclear promises. Iran has again shown the world that taking American hostages while Barack Obama is President can yield a diplomatic and military windfall.
Any American traveling to Iran should be on notice that they are potential hostages taken to limit American reactions to the Iranians ignoring any deal it has supposedly agreed to.

As John Hinderaker explains, Obama's statement on the release of those hostages was loaded full of straw men as he claimed that presidents for decades haven't negotiated with Iran.
This is fantasy, and Obama knows it. In fact, his predecessor George W. Bush engaged in extended diplomatic negotiations with Iran along with the “six powers.” But the Bush administration, unwilling to make a bad deal that would hurt American security interests, insisted that Iran stop enriching uranium. This, rather than any purported fear of diplomacy, is why there was no nuclear deal during the Bush administration.

As we noted here, Barack Obama, as a presidential candidate in 2008, undermined the Bush administration’s negotiating position by signaling the mullahs that if they waited until he took office, he would cut an easier deal with them.

So the difference between the Obama administration and the Bush administration was not diplomacy vs. no diplomacy, but rather dumb diplomacy (Obama) vs. smart diplomacy (Bush).
And of course, it is pure sophistry to pretend that the only alternative to Obama's horrible deal with Iran was war.
But this is a straw man of epic proportions. Who among American politicians or pundits has urged war with Iran? I am not aware of a single one. Obama had a perfectly good alternative to 1) a lousy deal that enriches the mullahs and makes it easier for them to acquire nuclear weapons, and 2) war with Iran. That alternative was to keep the sanctions in place unless and until Iran agreed to a deal that would actually prevent it from going nuclear. But Obama always prefers to take comfort in a straw man rather than engage with his opponents’ actual arguments.

Stephanie Slade at Reason has a good explanation of why the validity of polls has been detiorating.

Nate Silver explains "why some GOP candidates aren't taking the fight to Trump."
The most important part of the calculation is that if Trump doesn’t win Iowa, Cruz very probably will instead. In fact, if Trump slumps during the final two weeks of the campaign, Cruz could win resoundingly in Iowa, since polls suggest that he’s the second choice of many Trump voters.

So what would the other candidates rather have: an overwhelming Cruz win in Iowa or a close finish between Cruz and Trump?

Rubio, for example, might prefer a close finish. For one thing, if Cruz and Trump almost evenly split their vote, there’s an outside chance that Rubio could win Iowa himself with something like the 25 percent of the vote Mitt Romney got in 2012.1 Furthermore, a big Cruz win in Iowa, coupled with a big Trump loss, might be enough for Cruz to surge to the top of New Hampshire polls and win there too.

What about Chris Christie? Christie’s tough-guy persona might seem perfect for taking on Trump, especially during a debate. But Christie, like Rubio, has largely avoided confronting Trump. That too could reflect a strategic calculation. To win the nomination, Christie will first need a good performance in New Hampshire. Then he’ll hope to survive until the latter half of the nomination process, when lots of delegate-rich (and often winner-take-all or winner-take-most) blue and purple states vote. He’s playing a long game, in other words, and he might not mind some Trump-induced chaos in the short run if it prevents Cruz or some other candidate from slingshotting to victory.

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One benefit of the movie "13 Hours" is that the military operatives who fought back that night are getting the recognition for their bravery that they so richly deserve. I was thinking of how this movie joins another, "Black Hawk Down," to create bookends films that illustrate Clinton foreign policy failures.

By the way, if the Citizens United decision hadn't been decided the way it was, this movie could not have come out this year. Kyle Sammin at The Federalist reminds us that the Democrats wanted to block such free speech before an election. And let us not forget that that case revolved around a documentary criticizing Hillary Clinton.
Stretching “electioneering communications” to cover documentary films was not uncontroversial. Before the 2004 election, Citizens United had complained to the FEC that Michael Moore’s film “Fahrenheit 9/11” was just such a communication and, as it was released by a corporation rather than a campaign, it violated BCRA. They wanted Moore’s film (which he admitted he hoped would influence the 2004 election) shut down. The FEC declined to do so, holding that “the film, associated trailers and website represented bona fide commercial activity, not ‘contributions’ or ‘expenditures’”

Figuring that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, started producing conservative documentary films in 2005. When they released “Hillary: The Movie” on DirectTV in 2008, they sought assurance that the standard the FEC had applied to Moore’s film in 2004 would apply equally to theirs. They asked the district court in Washington DC to declare that the relevant section of BCRA would be unconstitutional as applied to their film, and for an injunction preventing the FEC from so enforcing it.

The district court saw things differently, and ordered summary judgment in the FEC’s favor, because the purpose of the film could only be “to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.”

At the oral argument on appeal, the Supreme Court justices probed the limits of the power the government claimed for itself, and questioned how it squared with the First Amendment. In one incredible back-and-forth, Chief Justice John Roberts asked Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart if there was “a 500-page book, and at the end it says, and so vote for X, the government could ban that?” Stewart’s response: yes.

“Well,” he explains, “if it says vote for X, it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the pre-existing Federal Election Campaign Act provision.” In the name of campaign finance reform, the United States government argued it could ban books.
Liberals who inveigh against that decision rarely want to let people know that that was what they were really arguing.
This brings us back to “13 Hours.” The film, distributed by Paramount Pictures (a for-profit corporation), by all accounts does not expressly advocate an opinion about Clinton or suggest that she is unfit for office. But the Obama administration’s opinion of its power under BCRA is so broad, it is not a great leap to suppose they would think any communication of important issues related to a candidate would constitute electioneering.

Would a Congress with the power to prohibit some corporate speech continue to allow other corporate speech based on the simple expedient the speaker of not expressly advocating for or against an individual candidate? Without Citizens United, nothing would stop them from further restricting the marketplace of political ideas.

PJ Media explains three indictments of Obama and Hillary Clinton's foreign policy that become clear from the movie, "13 Hours."

The National Journey explains how Paul Ryan is the counter-balance to Donald Trump because of Ryan's eagerness to engage on policy discussions on poverty and criminal justice.

Todd Purdum worries that the Democrats doesn't have a "next act."
The real identity crisis may be the one in the party in which none of this was supposed to happen—the party with a well-financed, brand-name candidate who suddenly finds her coronation interrupted by a 74-year-old socialist with a Brooklyn accent as thick as Junior’s Cheesecake.

That’s not the script anyone predicted for the Democrats when Bernie Sanders announced his long-shot challenge to Hillary Clinton last year. Few could have expected to see Sanders in the lead this close to the New Hampshire primary, or surging in Iowa, even besting Clinton’s support among younger women voters in some polls. But that reality has forced the party establishment to deal with an unwelcome prospect: As the Republicans energetically recast their pitch to disaffected Americans, it’s mainstream Democrats who are grappling with the more severe deficit of fresh messages, and new ideas.

Twenty-four years ago, Bill Clinton ran for president as a new kind of centrist Democrat, offering a “New Covenant” that emphasized both individual opportunity and collective responsibility, and promised an emphatic end to “the brain-dead politics of the past.” He won and repositioned his party for success for years to come.
But today’s America is a different country than it was when the first candidate Clinton urged voters not to stop thinking about tomorrow. Tomorrow is here, with an even more beleaguered middle class, less economic security, vastly greater racial and ethnic diversity and a world in which global economic interdependence and the threat of global terrorism are unsettling daily realities for millions of voters.

For all their divisions, the GOP candidates have been honing messages that connect with those anxieties—fighting for common Americans against globalization, against terrorists, against the shifting moral landscape of the country they grew up in. Similarly, the Sanders-Elizabeth Warren populist wing of the Democratic Party offers a powerful appeal to Americans worried about the growing unfairness of how money and power are distributed.

Hillary Clinton begins the year with the realities of the Democratic primary math, suggesting she’ll remain the prohibitive front-runner for the nomination; she’s also much more closely matched against most potential GOP opponents than her Democratic rivals. But when it comes to the long-term responsibility of a party’s front-runner—offering a message that can galvanize voters, and forge a new, durable majority—she’s largely running an update of the economic and foreign policy program of the past 25 years, one that offers no new message, no single similarly big idea. And that could be a problem—if not for her in November, then for her party over the next generation.

Kevin Williamson explains
why he thinks that Ted Cruz's attack on Trump's "New York values" is a very bad idea.
To the extent that “New York values” is another way of saying “urban values” — and it is, to a great extent — conservatives would do well to develop a keener appreciation of them. (Never mind, for the moment, the notion that Donald Trump’s values are identical to the values of New York, in which he is a figure of fun rather than a figure of respect.) From a matter of pure self-interest, Republicans would be in much better shape if their presidential candidates did not start in an electoral hole, with California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois wrapped up in a bow for the Democrats. It isn’t California ranchers and Illinois farmers who have handed those states to the Left, but city-dwelling people who believe with some reason — Ted Cruz has just given them another — that Republicans hate them.

Our cities are disproportionately black, but they are not disproportionately Martian. Our cities have many immigrants, but not immigrants from the Land of People Who Don’t Care About Their Kids and Really Like Paying High Taxes. Ask a black Democrat in the Bronx working to support a family whether he’d prefer to make more money or less, to keep more of his money or less, to have more economic security or less, for his children to have more educational opportunities or fewer, and he will give the same answers as any plaid-panted Brooks Brothers specimen haunting the Merion Cricket Club — or any white oilman running a fracking rig in the Eagle Ford shale. His values are New York values, too.

When Ronald Reagan was elected, 74 percent of the U.S. population lived in cities; today it is 82 percent. From 2000 to 2010, the nation’s population grew by 9.7 percent — but the city population grew by 12.1 percent. And those urbanites are not entirely pleased with the Democratic monopolies that govern most of them: In Flint, the Democrats are literally poisoning the children; in Atlanta, the schools are so corrupt that teachers and administrators had to be sent to prison; elsewhere, urban Americans are literally up in arms (Molotov cocktails, at least) over their treatment at the hands of the city powers they interact with most often: the police. New York City is sliding back into pre-Giuliani chaos.

And what are Republicans doing? Sneering at “New York values,” when they should be seeking to satisfy the best of those values, such as the entrepreneurial spirit and the hunger for advancement — which are, after all, the best of American values, too.
I so agree. Attack Donald Trump's prior policy positions and public statements, but don't denigrate any part of the country just to make a political point.

Ted Cruz based his attack on Donald Trump's "New York values" from a quote straight from Donald Trump's mouth from his 1999 interview with Tim Russert in which he expressed his support for gay marriage, gays serving in the military, and partial-birth abortions. Trump defended his position on those issues by saying,
I've lived in New York City and Manhattan all my life," Trump said. "So, you know, my views are a little different than if I lived in Iowa -- perhaps."
Aaron Blake at the Washington Post's The Fix thinks this was a clever attack.
It has allowed the Cruz campaign to resurface Trump's old liberal positions in a way that doesn't seem stale and like something the media has covered before. The phrase "New York values" has gotten buzz over the last week in a way "flip-flopper" never would have.

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A high school English teacher describes
what it is like to teach in an urban school. As she describes what she goes through in one day, period by period, I am highly thankful for the students whom I teach. They come to school ready and often eager to learn. They are polite and respectful of teachers and other students. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work with these students. I can't imagine going to work every day to the situation that this teacher faces. She has some good students and she asks herself whether those students don't deserve a good education in an environment conducive to learning. HEre is an excerpt from her day's diary.
Students start talking during the test. I give them repeated warnings. I move talkers apart. One person says, “I am just reading out loud.” I tell him patiently that this is not acceptable during a test. He replies, “How you gonna tell me if I should read out loud or not? Who are you to say?” He gives me the “stink face,” vernacular for an utterly contemptuous sneer, one every teacher in my building (and probably in many similar schools across this country) has experienced. I tell him that if he must read aloud, he can move to the back of the room and work there where he will not disturb others. He sneers again and says, “I ain’t moving there,” finally getting back to his test, finally silent.

Another student sits doing nothing. I ask why. He says he doesn’t have a pen. I point to the bin of clip boards, like those found in doctor’s offices with pens attached. He looks at them, gives me the stink face and says, “I ain’t using them.” He would rather take a zero than “degrade” himself by using a pen provided for him when he does not bring his own. He is wearing $200 tennis shoes.

Here is SNL's spoof of the GOP debates.