Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cruising the Web

The Associated Press has gone through the list of outside people who met or talked with Clinton when she was Secretary of State and found a big overlap between talking to Hillary Clinton and donating money to the Clinton Foundation.
More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

Donors who were granted time with Clinton included an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran; a Wall Street executive who sought Clinton's help with a visa problem and Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Clinton while her department worked with the firm's corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa.

David Harsanyi comments on how the Clintons are proving that big money in politics can be corrupting just as the Democrats have been warning us. Regarding the Associated Press story on the fact that more than half the private citizens who met with her when she was head of the State Department donated to the Clinton Foundation, he writes,
It’s implausible that a majority of the 154 citizens — people who’d kicked in at least $156 million to her charity — would also happen to catch Clinton’s ear as she toiled away at State. It’s also worth remembering this list doesn’t even include officials from the 16 governments — many of them autocrats — who threw the foundation another $170 million.

Recently, the foundation announced it would ban donations from corporations and foreign countries if Hillary is elected president. The question is: If it’s a conflict of interest when Hillary will be president, why wasn’t it a problem when she was secretary of state?

Let’s also not forget that during Clinton’s tenure at State she failed to disclose that regimes across the world were giving her charity hundreds of millions. Because she needed to hid this, she ended up sending 110 e-mails containing classified information — eight of which had “top secret” information, according to the FBI.

These days, Hillary brazenly goes on Jimmy Kimmel to clown around about her “boring” e-mails.

Well, if they’re so irrelevant, why was she hiding them from the Justice Department? If it’s no big deal, why did it take four years and a lawsuit against the State Department to gain access to her planning schedules? Why did she lie to the American people? Erase tens of thousands of e-mails? Set up a private server in the first place?

Hillary claims running the State Department gave her the experience and temperament necessary to be president. But if anything, it reminds us of the Clintons’ propensity for scandal and dishonesty. And if Clinton wins this year, she’ll become the most ethically compromised president in contemporary times. Perhaps ever.
And then there is this detail that Bre Payton reports on in The Federalist.
Shortly after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the crown prince of Bahrain, a Clinton Foundation donor, the United States sold his country a ton of arms.

A newly released batch of emails reveals that Clinton met with the crown prince in 2009, who has personally donated over $32 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, only after a Clinton Foundation bigwig pressured her into doing so.

Just after this meeting took place, Clinton’s State Department “significantly increased arms export authorizations to the country’s autocratic government, even as that nation moved to crush pro-democracy protests,” the International Business Times reports.

Throughout her tenure as secretary, Clinton’s State Department gave the green light to sell $630 million worth of arms to Bahrain’s military — a huge increase from $219 million worth of weapons the United States sold to the country between 2006-2008.

The increase coincided with the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, when Bahrain military forces tear-gassed civilians to squelch the demonstrations. During this period, the United States sold $70,000 worth of “toxicological agents” to the autocratic regime — a huge increase from the $700 sold the period before.

Clinton’s State Department also tried to quietly sell armored vehicles and missiles to Bahrain, saying there was no need for “formal notifications” or a “public explanation” as the amount of arms “didn’t meet the threshold” to require such formalities.

The plan was temporarily foiled after members of Congress expressed human rights concerns, but a year later the deal was back on track after the crown prince met with Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
I'm sure that the donations to the Foundation are just a coincidence. After all, we don't have an email saying, give our Foundation money and we'll sell you arms that you can use on your own citizens. But sometimes the details are just a bit too cozy. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."

With this week's revelations about the emails not turned over and the close contacts between her State Department and the Clinton Foundation, Hillary must be hoping that Trump will say something incendiarily stupid and distract the squirrels in the media away from all the evidence of her corruption.

S. E. Cupp advises the media and everyone else to stop searching for a Trump pivot. Charlie Brown had the football pulled out from under him fewer times than we've been told that Trump was pivoting to being more presidential.
Google "Trump pivot" and you get about 707,000 search results. That's because reporters, political strategists, pundits, many voters -- and presumably members of his own staff -- have for this entire election cycle been collectively wondering if Donald Trump is ever going to become a smart, serious and disciplined candidate....

But while the focus now seems to be the durability or otherwise of this latest "pivot," few are asking the much more important question: When did we construct this new version of the political pivot, whereby a year's worth of garbage is erased or forgiven, and why do we apply it only to Donald Trump?

....Clearly, Trump has done little, save for occasionally reading from a teleprompter, to indicate he is capable of, let alone interested in, changing his penchant for "telling it like it is" -- or, what psychologists call blurting.

But as GOP strategist Rick Wilson noted, with exasperation, the media falls for the pivot talk every time. "It's the 87th pivot this year. And every time this happens you know that there's a clock running. And that clock is, when does Donald Trump get his phone back and start tweeting again? When does Donald Trump start letting his verbal dysentery spray out all over the world again?"
Of course, most presidential candidates have to shift somewhat after courting their base voters to courting undecideds, independents and moderates. But those shifts typically look more like a slight broadening and softening of message.

What those shifts do not entail is an expectation of some kind of mass amnesia, whereby general election voters forget about the inexcusable, offensive, alarming things the candidate has said or done for the past year.

Those that have mulled a more dramatic repositioning have learned that you cannot, as Mitt Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom suggested in 2012, treat the general election pivot as an "Etch A Sketch" where you can "kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
Why? Because we don't live in the era of the Pony Express, when news took forever to reach us. There's no un-seeing or un-hearing what someone -- especially someone as loud-mouthed as Trump -- has been saying for a year. Even a voter who isn't tuning in during the primary will have heard about his antics.

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Jim Geraghty notes this amusing fact from the list of Clinton Foundation donors that makes it so clear how it was obviously "pay to play."
No doubt the sprawling Clinton Foundation, enjoying hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and spending nearly $250 million in 2013 and 2014, does some good work around the world. Take, for example, the Full Participation project, “an initiative of the Clinton Foundation which aims to advance the full participation of girls and women around the world.” The project has worked to expand women’s access to contraception and education, increase their involvement in the workforce, and fight child marriage.

But the Foundation’s commitment to women’s rights is odd, when you consider some of its biggest donors: From 2001 to 2014, Qatar gave between $1 million and $5 million, Kuwait gave between $5 million and $10 million, and Saudi Arabia gave between $10 million and $25 million. These governments are not exactly known for their equitable treatment of women. If they wanted to promote women’s rights, changing their own laws would do far more than their millions in donations ever will. And yet, something made them decide that donating to the Clinton Foundation was most worthwhile. Why is it unreasonable to suspect that these countries thought they were ingratiating themselves with a secretary of state who stood a good chance of becoming president in the near future?

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William McGurn isn't buying the Clinton defense that no one can prove that there was any quid pro quo involved in the money going to the Clinton Foundation while those donors were also trying to get some benefit from the State Department.
Quid pro quo is notoriously hard to prove in such cases, and we will never know what (if anything) Mrs. Clinton or State delivered in return. We’re asked to believe that it was somehow an accident that so many of the millions former President Bill Clinton raked in from speaking fees would come from companies, countries or people who had business before a State Department run by his wife. The truth is, this was inevitable under the Clinton Foundation business model. And it beggars belief to think all these dollars were being given out without an expectation of something in return.
Just like all those donors of millions in soft money when Clinton was president didn't really want anything more than a chance to hob nob with Bill and Hill.

James Longstreet remembers
Bill Clinton's 1995 State of the Union address talking about stopping illegal immigration and promising to do more to stop it. He got a standing O from both parties for those lines. Think of how far the Democratic Party has moved in the past 20 years from that position. As Longstreet points out, what President Clinton said then could easily have come from Donald Trump - at least until he decides to "pivot" from his previous calls for a wall and the calls to expel those who here illegally. Will the media ask either of the Clintons to ask them why they changed their minds from back then.

Jim Geraghty explains why
some stories get a lot of media attention and some are ignored.
Milwaukee erupts in riots that injure police officers, but it barely becomes national news. Louisiana is devastated by floods, but it takes a week for the national press to notice. The number of fatal overdoses has exploded since 2010. The suicide rate has increased by 2 percent per year since 2006, and hit the highest levels in nearly 30 years last year.

If you view the national news media, based in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and a handful of other cities, as way too monolithic in its political views and driven by conscious and subconscious agendas, the half-hearted-at-best interest in these stories isn’t that hard to explain. These stories aren’t easily used to advance the narrative that Republicans are bad and Democrats are good.

If a terrible natural disaster in Louisiana can be blamed on a Republican president, then it’s one of the biggest stories of the decade. If the lack of a public statement on a Louisiana disaster during a presidential vacation might reflect badly on a Democratic president, it’s best to treat the flood as a “page A4″ story, check-the-box journalism.

A paranoid schizophrenic shooting a Democratic Congresswoman in Tuscon warrants national conversation on whether the Tea Party’s rhetoric is inherently inciting to violence, and whether gun owners as a whole represent some threat to their fellow citizens. But an illegal immigrant shooting a young woman in San Francisco offers no further explanation or discussion, no need for a national conversation on whether a “sanctuary city” might protect dangerous criminals. A racist madman shooting up a Charleston church group indicts all Southerners, but the twisted cruelty of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell is just a “local crime story.”

If there really is a giant and widening cultural gap between America’s elites and the rest of the citizenry in “flyover country,” how much of it is driven by narrative-minded journalism? If you die in a particular way that can advance the Democrats’ legislative agenda, your death is going to be an enormously big deal. If the circumstances of your death are politically inconvenient to the Left – Brian Terry or the Benghazi four or those who died on the waiting list for the VA — there are no greater lessons to be learned or need for further action; it’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances. One set of citizens are in the picture; one set of citizens on the periphery get cropped out. It just doesn’t fit the picture that someone wants to create.

Daniel Payne writes at The Federalist about how younger people are quite eager to scrap the First Amendment when it comes to what they deem to be hate speech.
Some poll numbers suggest as much: two-thirds of Americans, for instance, think people who engage in “hate speech” are “more dangerous” than the people who would censor it. Among younger Americans—millennials—the polls indicate a staggering opposition to freedom of speech: out of 800 students polled at colleges across the country, more than a third believed the First Amendment does not protect “hate speech,” with a third also claiming the First Amendment is “outdated;” more than half believe colleges should have speech codes to police the speech of students and professors.

Forty percent of millennials, meanwhile, think government should be able to censor “offensive statements about minorities.” Indeed, millennials appear to be the most censorious generation alive. As older generations die off or become less politically active, we can assume that more and more anti-free speech millennials will make up a larger and larger share of the electorate.

All of which is to say: if we are worried about the anti-free speech ambitions of our two presidential candidates and the parties they represent, we should also be concerned about the American body politic, a substantial percentage of which is greatly inclined to censor “offensive” speech. A generation so inclined to muzzle its fellow Americans could pose an existential threat to the First Amendment.
I've definitely noticed these opinions among my students. I try to do as much as I can to teach what the First Amendment means and its history, but I still will have students every year who will argue that the First Amendment shouldn't cover speech that is hurtful to any group or can be termed "hate speech." When I ask who they would have decide what speech is hate speech, they seem confident that judges are capable of doing so. I find it rather frightening how so many young people think that protecting people from being offended should trump protections of freedom of speech.
The problem for Democrats, though, is that they might not retake the House even if they managed to perform as well as the Democrats of 2006 or 2008, or the Republicans of 2010.

Why? To extend the wave analogy: The Republican House is on very high ground, and it will take a particularly large wave to bring it down.

Perhaps the easiest comparison is with 2006, when the Democrats gained 31 seats. That number is a convenient example, because the Democrats need to pick up 30 seats this year. Now consider the various ways that the Democrats will be fighting on harder terrain than the Democrats of 2006.

Heading into the 2006 election, the Republicans held 21 seats that were more Democratic than the country as a whole, as measured by the Cook partisan voting index (P.V.I.) — an average of the vote in the last two presidential elections compared with the country. But in 2014, the Republicans won just 10 seats with a Democratic-leaning Cook P.V.I. There are far fewer easy pickings.

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Nate Cohn assesses the probability that the Democrats will retake the House.

Rich Lowry ridicules Hillary's attempt to blame Colin Powell for her decision to use a private server.
The influence that Colin Powell has over Hillary Clinton is something to behold. His word is her command. When he tells her to break the law and endanger the nation’s secrets, she doesn’t hesitate. She salutes smartly and does as she is told.

Clinton has been desperate for the moral cover of Colin Powell for her e-mail arrangement since the scandal first broke last year. Now we’ve learned that Clinton told the FBI that Powell advised her to use private e-mail as secretary of state at a dinner in 2009. This escalates Clinton’s e-mail defense from “Hey, Colin Powell did it, too,” all the way to “Colin Powell made me do it.”

The Powell defense has given Clinton shills something to say on TV, but it doesn’t make much sense. While the former general used a private e-mail as secretary of state, it was at a time when the department didn’t have a robust email system of its own. And he obviously didn’t set up his own private server. After Powell left State, the department’s rules steadily got stricter about using official e-mail for State Department business and preserving e-mail records — and Clinton blew through them all.

Tom Barella lists 14 attacks
on Trump which are also true of Obama and Hillary. It's very well done. All three have lied and also hypocrites. Both, particularly Obama, have demonstrated a tendency to bully those with whom they disagree or just to achieve their policy ends. All three are arrogant. Both Obama and Trump display narcissism. The list goes on and on with many examples. For example, Trump has been accused of corrupt business deals, but that pales compared to Clintonian corruption. And shouldn't the corruption of public officials trouble us more than that done in the private sector?
Sorely missing from the debate has been recognizing the chasm between Trump’s highly criticized activities in the private sector and Hillary Clinton squeezing every ounce of personal benefit that being at the top of government provides. As a public official, are her abuses of power not an order of magnitude more outrageous than anything Trump could do as a private business person?
Of course, Trump is still an odious figure. Sadly, we're at a point in our political history when both major-party candidates are contemptible.

Claudia Rosett reports on some of the details on how the Obama administration got the money to pay Iran the ransom.
Congressional investigators trying to uncover the trail of $1.3 billion in payments to Iran might want to focus on 13 large, identical sums that Treasury paid to the State Department under the generic heading of settling “Foreign Claims.”

The 13 payments when added to the $400 million that the administration now concedes it shipped to the Iranian regime in foreign cash would bring the payout to the $1.7 billion that President Obama and Secretary Kerry announced on January 17....
The details are quite intriguing.
Yet more questions surround the administration’s handling of the remaining $1.3 billion. Could this have been drawn from a fund bankrolled by American taxpayers and housed at Treasury, called the Judgment Fund? And why were the 13 payments in amounts of one cent less than $100,000,000?

The Judgment Fund has long been a controversial vehicle for federal agencies to detour past one of the most pointed prohibitions in the Constitution: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

The Judgment Fund, according to a Treasury Department Web site, is “a permanent, indefinite appropriation” used to pay monetary awards against U.S. government agencies in cases “where funds are not legally available to pay the award from the agency’s own appropriations.”

In March, in letters responding to questions about the Iran settlement sent weeks earlier by Representatives Edward Royce and Mike Pompeo, the State Department confirmed that the $1.3 billion “interest” portion of the Iran settlement had been paid out of the Judgment Fund. But State gave no information on the logistics.

The 13 payments that may explain what happened are found in an online database maintained by the Judgment Fund. A search for “Iran” since the beginning of this year turns up nothing. But a search for claims in which the defendant is the State Department turns up 13 payments for $99,999,999.99.

They were all made on the same day, all sharing the same file and control reference numbers, all certified by the U.S. Attorney General, but each assigned a different identification number. They add up to $1,299,999,999.87, or 13 cents less than the $1.3 billion Messrs. Obama and Kerry announced in January.

Together with a 14th payment of just over $10 million, the grand total paid out by Treasury from the Judgment Fund on that single day, January 19, for claims pertaining to the State Department, comes to roughly $1.31 billion.

Treasury has provided no answers to my queries about whether these specific payments were for the Iran settlement. Nor why these transfers comprised 13 payments, each of which was a cent under $100,000,000. Nor whether the $10 million related to the same matter.

The Judgment Fund database contains over the past year no other payouts pertaining to State that come anywhere near the scale of $1.3 billion of the announced with Iran. And it contains no details on what the State Department might have done with the $1.3 billion.

It does say, as a general matter, that “Defendant Agency Name is the same as the Responsible Agency Name.” It leaves open the question of whether it was State rather than Treasury that determined by what route and in what form the funds would reach their final destination.

State has refused to disclose even such basic information as the date on which Iran took receipt of the $1.3 billion. As recently as August 4, a State spokesman told the press: “I don’t have a date of when that took place.”

Nor has the administration answered whether the $1.3 billion was transferred to Iran via the banking system, or, like the $400 million, in cash. According to the Judgment Fund web site, the “preferred method” for payments is “by electronic fund transfer,” approved by the relevant government agency, to the party receiving the award.

But, the Weekly Standard noted last week, President Obama recently defended his $400 million cash shipment to Iran on the grounds that “We don’t have a banking relationship with Iran... We could not wire the money.”

The Judgment Fund’s public database provides no information about where precisely the $1.31 billion in January payments went, or how. The Fund’s web site does provide blank “Voucher for Payment” forms, requiring administration officials to provide such details, and sign off on them.

These payouts from the Judgment Fund were made within days of the announcement of the Iran settlement. The Judgment Fund’s web site states that while its bureaucracy has recently become more efficient, “processing times” for payments still take “6 to 8 weeks.”

If the multiple 10-digit payments of January 19 do turn out to be connected to the Iran settlement announced January 17, that would suggest that the Judgment Fund completed its processing for Iran in a mere two days one of which — Monday, January 18 — was a federal holiday.
All this raises some pertinent questions about why the payments were made this way. Why was $400 million paid in cash? That was ostensibly to settle the arms deal from 1979. The additional $1.3 billion was the interest owed on the original $400 million. Got that? Obama said they paid in cash because they couldn't wire the money since we don't have banking relations with Iran. That excuse, of course, ignores the fact that we could have sent the money through a third country that does have such relations. But it also raises the question as to why the $1.3 billion was wired and why the Treasury Department's money was given to the State Department in those interesting sums that were one penny less than $100 million. If the money that is listed on the Treasury website ultimately went from Treasury to State, were they wired instead of cash? That seems to be the preferred method used for that fund. But, as John Sexton notes, the State Department doesn't want to answer questions about that payment even though it's listed on a government website.
The Weekly Standard notes that the Judgment Fund website lists “electronic fund transfer” as its preferred method of payment. And yet all of these payments appear to have been made on January 19th, just two days after the cash delivery to Iran (and one of those days, January 18th, was a federal holiday). How is it possible that it was necessary to send the $400 million in cash but was possible to send the $1.3 billion in interest by wire just two days later? Couldn’t the cash delivery have waited another two days? Or was it because the administration wanted to use the cash as leverage?

Today, reporter Matt Lee of the Associated Press asked State Department spokesman Mark Toner about those payments from the Judgment Fund. “These transfers certainly appear to have been made by wire not paid in actual cash,” Lee stated. “If that is the case I’m wondering…why you couldn’t have paid the $400 million in the same way?” Lee asked.

Spokesman Mark Toner replied, “I’m not sure if I can give you a complete answer on that.” He went on to mention the fact that the U.S. did not have a “bank to bank” financial relationship with Iran at the time. Toner said he couldn’t speak to how the payment of interest was made.

Lee pressed the point saying, “But you’re suggesting that there might have been some change in your banking relationship between the 17th of January and the 19th of January that would have allowed this to…the 18th as I recall was a federal holiday.”

Toner replied, “I don’t know” and added, “And we’ve said we’re not going to talk about this.”

“This stuff keeps coming out, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip,” Lee said. “If the administration wants to put this behind itself it would seem to me that it would be smart to actually get an answer to these questions,” he added.

Toner replied there were “reasons for us withholding this information…to protect the confidentiality.” He would not even confirm that the 13 payments of just under $100 million were the interest payments to Iran, though he promised to look into it. Toner seemed to become a bit agitated at this point saying, “If you guys think that I enjoy standing up here and getting continual questions from you about the process here, I don’t.”

“It’s not you,” Lee replied, “It is this hell-bend desire to keep this stuff secret when it’s not secret anymore.”
Note that that exchange is with a reporter from the Associated Press, no right-wing publication. Even ordinary reporters are fed up with the deceptions and lame spin coming out of the State Department.

Oh, and our good negotiating partner, the Iranians, with whom John Kerry has been urging businesses to open up trading deals. Well, the State Department has just issued a travel advisory for Americans, particularly Iranian-Americans, traveling to Iran about the danger of being detained and prevented from leaving Iran. I guess the administration doesn't want to have pay any more ransom money that they'll lie about and pretend isn't ransom money. Larry O'Connor asks,
Why would a criminal regime like Iran take hostages? Logic suggests that the evil practice would be so that they could gain something from America. You know, the same way the Taliban kept alleged deserter Bowe Bergdahl in captivity and did not release him until five senior Taliban terrorists were released from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Of course, it makes no sense for Iran to want to abduct innocent Americans and hold them in return for some sort of international concessions or even cash payments from America. After all, we don’t pay ransom for hostages.

Oh… wait a second

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