Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cruising the Web

More friendly actions by our negotiating partner - the Iranians.
Four Iranian boats approached a U.S. destroyer in the Persian Gulf in a dangerous stunt Tuesday, according to a Navy official.

The small Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy craft drove within within 300 yards of the destroyer Nitze, deployed with the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, near the Strait of Hormuz, said the official who was not authorized to speak on the record about the incident.

The Navy is calling the incident "unsafe and unprofessional," he said.
"Unsafe and unprofessional." Really? What wimpy language. Can't we at least get an "unacceptable"?

The WSJ's Jay Solomon has written a new book, The Iran Wars:Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East, about Obama's obsession with trying to negotiate some sort of deal with the Iranians. Eli Lake reviews what Solomon reports on how far Obama went in 2009 not to help the Iranian green movement protesting the stolen election that Ahmadinejad supposedly won. He was too afraid of losing the opportunity to negotiate with Iran's hardline government that he didn't want to risk offending them. That has been his overarching goal from the beginning, no matter what.
Behind the scenes, Obama overruled advisers who wanted to do what America had done at similar transitions from dictatorship to democracy, and signal America's support.

Solomon reports that Obama ordered the CIA to sever contacts it had with the green movement's supporters. "The Agency has contingency plans for supporting democratic uprisings anywhere in the world. This includes providing dissidents with communications, money, and in extreme cases even arms," Solomon writes. "But in this case the White House ordered it to stand down."

At the time, Solomon reports, Obama's aides received mixed messages. Members of the Iranian diaspora wanted the president to support the uprisings. Dissident Iranians from inside the country said such support would be the kiss of death. In the end, Obama did nothing, and Iran's supreme leader blamed him anyway for fomenting the revolt.

It's worth contrasting Obama's response with how the U.S. has reacted to other democratic uprisings. The State Department, for example, ran a program in 2000 through the U.S. embassy in Hungary to train Serbian activists in nonviolent resistance against their dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic, too, accused his opposition of being pawns of the U.S. government. But in the end his people forced the dictator from power.

Similarly, when Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met with popular protests in 2003 after rigged elections, George W. Bush dispatched James Baker to urge him to step down peacefully, which he did. Even the Obama administration provided diplomatic and moral support for popular uprisings in Egypt in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014.

Iran though is a very different story. Obama from the beginning of his presidency tried to turn the country's ruling clerics from foes to friends. It was an obsession. And even though the president would impose severe sanctions on the country's economy at the end of his first term and beginning of his second, from the start of his presidency, Obama made it clear the U.S. did not seek regime change for Iran.

It's debatable whether the U.S. ever did support such a policy. But it's striking the lengths to which Obama went to make good on his word. As Solomon reports, Obama ended U.S. programs to document Iranian human rights abuses. He wrote personal letters to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei assuring him the U.S. was not trying to overthrow him. Obama repeatedly stressed his respect for the regime in his statements marking Iran's annual Nowruz celebration.

His quest to engage the mullahs seems to have influenced Obama's decision-making on other issues too. When he walked away from his red line against Syria's use of chemical weapons in 2013, Solomon reports, both U.S. and Iranian officials had told him that nuclear negotiations would be halted if he intervened against Bashar al-Assad.
So if he had to pay a ransom and then lie to the American people about sending cash because we couldn't wire them when we actually did wire them over a billion dollars, who cares? We had to get that deal even though the Iranians from the very beginning openly flaunted their intention to ignore parts of the deal. And if Obama had to let go his original requirements for the deal, what did that matter as long as there was something to sign?
Eventually, the Iranians wore down the U.S. delegation. At the beginning of the talks in 2013, the U.S. position was for Iran to dismantle much of its nuclear infrastructure. By the end of the talks in 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry and his team "agreed that Iran would then be allowed to build an industrial-scale nuclear program, with hundreds of thousands of machines, after a ten year period of restraint."

Other U.S. red lines were demolished too. The final deal would allow the U.N. ban on Iranian missile development to phase out after eight years, and the arms embargo against Iran to expire after five. Iran would not have to acknowledge that it had tried to develop a nuclear weapon, even though samples the Iranians collected at its Parchin facility found evidence of man-made uranium.

In one particularly revealing passage, Solomon captures the thinking of Kerry, who engaged in detailed negotiations over the deal in the final months of the talks. "So many wars have been fought over misunderstandings, misinterpretations, lack of effective diplomacy," Kerry told Solomon in a 2016 interview. "War is the failure of diplomacy."
Iran publicly talks about their desire to destroy Israel. They certainly don't think that the deal forestalls the possibility of war. This farce of a deal was not worth ignoring the brave Iranians who were willing to stand up to their tyrannical government in 2009.

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John Kerry continues his reign of cluelessness. He recently visited Nigeria and lectured them on the best way to defeat Boko Haram - don't use the military; be more understanding.
Mr. Kerry dedicated much of his speech to urging Nigeria to employ and educate young people so they do not join groups like Boko Haram. Mr. Kerry decried Boko Haram’s “nihilistic view of the world.”
The WSJ writes,
John Kerry used his visit to Nigeria on Tuesday to lecture the government about how “extremism can’t be defeated through repression or fear.” The U.S. Secretary of State was trying to tell Abuja how to win its war against Boko Haram, but he would have done better to deliver arms instead of sanctimony....

Boko has proved impervious to Western Twitter campaigns asking it to return kidnapped children. More effective has been a military campaign led by President Muhammadu Buhari, a devout Muslim elected last year. The former general has forged a coalition of Nigeria’s neighbors to defeat the terror group. He has barraged Boko Haram with heavy artillery, increased air attacks and mobilized local tribal hunters to smoke out Boko positions in Borno State, Boko’s birthplace.

Mr. Buhari’s campaign is restoring security and rule of law to areas once controlled by Boko. This is so even if reports on the eve of Mr. Kerry’s visit that Boko leader Abubakar Shekau was recently killed in an air raid turn out to be unfounded.

Mr. Kerry’s visit should have been an opportunity for the U.S. to forge closer ties with Africa’s most populous country. Congress has yet to approve the proposed transfer of 12 Super Tucano aircraft to Abuja, and America’s anti-antiterror crowd continues to lobby against the sale, citing Nigeria’s human-rights record.

Mr. Buhari’s government has many faults, but Boko will not be defeated by kindness. It’s hard to think of a worse recipe for human-rights abuses than a failure to defeat it swiftly and decisively, and it behooves the U.S. to aid its ally in the effort.

Politicians regularly make campaign promises that can't be kept. But Trump makes ones that are impossible to believe and just makes himself ridiculous by doing so. This is what he is saying to minorities living in dangerous inner cities.
'I will fix it. I’ll be able to make sure that when you walk down the street in your inner city or wherever you are, you’re not gonna be shot, your child isn’t gonna be shot.'
Gee, why didn't anyone think of that before? Of course, he doesn't say how he, as president, would carry out such a promise. He can't because no one can. And local policing is not a federal responsibility. In Trump's mind, the president can wave a magic wand and any problem anywhere can be solved. He doesn't really have any proposal or any understanding of exactly what is a federal or a state or a local responsibility. The sloganeering is enough.

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Good to know - Obama's Energy Secretary says that fracking has been good for the environment.
The oil and gas boom is reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Monday.

"The increased production of oil and natural gas in the United States has, obviously, been a major story in terms of our economy, and also our environment," Moniz said at a field hearing in Seattle convened by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"The natural gas boom, in particular, has led to the displacement of high-carbon coal with low-carbon natural gas producing fewer [carbon dioxide] emissions," Moniz said.

Moniz's comments follow those by the head of the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department's analysis arm, earlier this month, indicating that carbon emissions are lower than they have been since 1992 because of increased reliance on natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.
But that hasn't stopped environmental activists from trying to stop fracking.
Since the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory board published a study earlier this month debunking the widespread claim that fracking contaminates drinking water, environmentalists have attempted to double down — claiming that the study didn’t have enough scientific evidence in it to back up its findings. Moniz’s testimony at last week’s hearing was meant to dispel these criticisms and confirm to the public that fracking doesn’t just drastically reduce the cost of energy, it also helps the environment.

In the past five years, there have been at least 75 scientific studies that all reach the same conclusion: methane emissions are falling — despite a huge increase in the level of natural gas, The Daily Caller’s Andrew Follett reported.

A recent study found that fracking has reduced carbon emissions by 20 percent, whereas the costly and heavily subsidized development of solar and wind energy has only reduced these same emissions by roughly 1 percent.

John Oliver has never been my cup of tea, but he really stepped in it when he decided to demonize charter schools. (Full disclosure: I teach at a charter school from which my younger daughter graduated and my older daughter works for a charter school organization in Washington, D.C. I am a huge fan of charters.) He clearly was more interested in touting the teachers' unions' talking points rather than actually learning anything about actual charter schools. Joy Pullmann excoriates Oliver's ignorance and his apparent desire for poor children to remain in awful schools. He doesn't seem to care whether or not charters provide better educational environments for students or whether they're more successful than regular public schools or whether parents are happier with charters.
I don’t know how any morally responsible person can look a child in the face and tell him or her, “You must go back to your violent traditional public school where only 1 in 5 of your peers will graduate with any hope of sustainable employment, because I’m just not sure about this ‘private individuals running schools’ thing.” A child in a charter school is a sign of both desperation and hope, because a parent has to actively pull his child from his default public school to enroll in a charter. If that child is there, there’s a reason. We should not discount it, especially not with empty-headed jokes.
But jokes are so much easier than actually looking at what is happening in regular public schools compared to charter schools in the same neighborhoods.
Oliver also complains that charters, unlike traditional schools, sometimes close. He highlighted one that closed six weeks after school started and 14 that didn’t finish their first school year in Florida: “When schools close that fast, it’s shocking,” he says. Actually, what’s shocking is when they never close despite years of sub-standard graduation rates and above-average illiteracy rates bought with millions of dollars of other people’s money.

School closure has been found to be one of the very few effective remedies for a failing school. It is also a major reason charter schools are dramatically improving over time and compared to non-charter public schools. Most of the nation’s inner-city schools have been failing huge numbers of their students since the 1960s. How many of them have been closed? Nearly none.

Closing terrible schools is an excellent thing in the long run. We don’t need less of it; we need more of it. Where do the kids go when this happens mid-year (an extremely rare occurrence)? Well, has Oliver ever heard of this little thing called “transferring”? People do it all the time. And they don’t die of it, either.
He singles out a few charter schools that have been found guilty of fraud. As Pullmann points out, plenty of regular public schools have been found guilty of fraud, often of multi-million dollar scams. Pullmann writes, "Apparently it’s too much to ask of Oliver to spend a couple minutes on Google before going on camera." And then there is this ignorant criticism.
He complains that “charter schools are uneven in quality.” Um, this is actually a big complaint about traditional public schools, too. Rich kids get good ones, poor kids get bad ones. There are lots of reasons for this, but one is that rich families choose schools through a) private school tuition, like Oliver’s parents did or b) high property tax rates that underwrite their tony public schools. (Although let’s be clear here, because the nation’s worst public schools actually tend to spend like pricey private schools. DC per-pupil spending is $25,038, New York City’s is $20,331, Detroit’s is $13,825, and Chicago’s is $16,432 (plus $38,000 per student in unfunded liabilities), for example.) Poor people can’t buy their way into better schools. That’s kind of a function of being poor people. So they get trapped in the bad ones.

Money by itself doesn’t improve education quality, but giving individuals control over their own money sure does. School choice, of which charters are a part, gives poor families more leverage to negotiate their children’s attendance with schools. It confers to poor people some of the power rich families have, so they can negotiate more of what they want out of whatever schools they choose to attend....

John Oliver and his parents were willing to trust his education and his career to the free market (he’s employed by a private company, after all), but for some reason, Oliver is scared stiff of everyone else doing the same. Is he just stupid, or cruel?
Read the rest of Pullmann's take-down of Oliver's silly broadcast. Jon Gabriel at Ricochet adds his ridicule of Oliver.
We all know John Oliver’s shtick. Each Sunday he goes on HBO to inveigh against some progressive bogeyman — DC lobbyists, big bankers, Donald Drumpf, etc. — replete with out-of-context clips, snarky rebuttals, and lots of F-bombs. And the left-leaning press heralds his brilliance with viral videos insisting he “destroyed,” “eviscerated,” and “disemboweled” his quarry. But last Sunday, he took a break from snarking on the rich and powerful to focus on a new target: kids who attend charter schools....

Wealthy parents have been able to choose their kids’ school forever, but middle-income and lower-income families have only recently gained that ability. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 76 percent of US charter school students are non­white, and 39 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced­ price lunch. This presents a massive opportunity for cash-strapped families to educate their children as least as well as the rich families living on the other side of town.

Oliver starts his “evisceration” with a half-hearted disclaimer: “Critics argue charters overstate their successes, siphon off talented students, and divert precious resources within a school district. Now for this piece … we’re going to set aside whether or not charter schools are a good idea in principle.” He then proceeds to single out a handful of the worst-run schools while zealously avoiding the thousands of successes.

Here’s a bad charter school in Florida. And look at this jerk in Ohio! He wants the viewer to extrapolate these nightmare scenarios (all of which were discovered by the state and punished accordingly) into an indictment of all 6,000 schools. His argument, if you can call it that, is basically, “Here’s a bad charter school, therefore all charter schools are bad.” If he was truly interested in not taking a side on whether the model is good or bad, he would have spent at least as much time promoting the good examples.

Oliver also could have rattled off a list of scandals embroiling government-run schools, but his show only lasts 30 minutes. Instead he wants to impugn the inspiring teachers, involved parents, and dedicated students who make up the charter school community.

A multi-millionaire celebrity like John Oliver can send his child to any school he wants. I’m disappointed that he doesn’t want you to have that choice.

Of course, his stupidity will reach millions of people, while the debunking will just reach thousands. It is so sad, because so many charters are doing wonderful things for all sorts of students. They should be celebrated instead of attacked.

Cheers to the University of Chicago. Charles Lipson reports that the prestigious university has taken a stand for the free exchange of ideas.
Today, the University of Chicago told incoming students exactly what they need to hear. We believe in free expression because it is vital to real, unfettered inquiry and intellectual debate. Here’s the kernel of the letter sent to incoming students.Today, the University of Chicago told incoming students exactly what they need to hear. We believe in free expression because it is vital to real, unfettered inquiry and intellectual debate. Here’s the kernel of the letter sent to incoming students.

One of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. . . .

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own. . . .
Signed, Jay Ellison
Dean of Students in the College
It seems strange to have to cheer such a common-sense statement, but in these days, this is a sign of courage among our university elites. Bravo!

The Brazilian authorities tried to hold up one of the American swimmers involved in the Lochtemess story for about $50,000 to let him leave Brazil. In other contexts, this would sound like a kidnap victim trying to negotiate with his captors.

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Hillary Clinton is going to have to answer questions under oath to Judicial Watch. Deroy Murdock has some suggestions of questions they could ask her. Here are a few pertinent ones we'd all like to know the answers to.
3. Did you believe that America’s secrets would be more secure on a computer server in the basement of your home than on one in the basement of the State Department? If so, why? If not, why did you rely on your private server?

4. In your public statements, you claimed to have had one server and one mobile device while secretary of state. FBI Director Comey indicated that, in fact, you “used several different servers” and “mobile devices to send and to read e-mail on that personal domain.” How many private servers did you use, and how many devices did you employ while secretary of state? Why did you lie to the American public about these simple facts?

7. Did the staffers, consultants, vendors, attorneys, and others with access to your private servers and devices have security clearance high enough to allow them to see the e-mails that traversed this equipment? If not, why did you grant them such access?

9. You repeatedly have said that you never saw or received any e-mails “that were marked classified.” You spent six years as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Given that experience, how could you possibly not recognize classified documents without having to see them marked with the word “classified”?

10. When you received e-mails from U.S. ambassadors, the secretary of defense, the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, and other public servants involved in America’s most delicate diplomatic, military, and intelligence activities, how could you possibly think that their official, foreign-policy e-mails were anything but classified, even if they were not so marked?

The Clinton campaign has been criticizing the AP's report that more than half the private individuals who visited her at State also donated about $158 million to the Clinton Foundation. That's a lot of money from 85 individuals. Their criticism is that the AP only covered part of her tenure there at State and didn't include in their analysis the foreign diplomats and members of the government with whom she met so it was deceptive reporting and outrageous, yadda, yadda, yadda. Within their story, AP acknowledged that they weren't including representatives of foreign governments, but that data might not have been as helpful as the Clintonistas imply.
Clinton met with representatives of at least 16 foreign governments that donated as much as $170 million to the Clinton charity, but they were not included in AP's calculations because such meetings would presumably have been part of her diplomatic duties.
Yeah, her regular diplomatic duties included being a bagwoman for the Foundation accepting money from foreign governments. Ha!

The AP answers back.
The Associated Press’ reporting relied on publicly available data provided by the State Department about Hillary Clinton’s meetings, phone calls and emails, cross-referenced against donor information provided by the Clinton Foundation and its related charities on its websites.

As AP wrote, our reporting was based on Mrs. Clinton’s calendars covering the entirety of her tenure as secretary of state and on more detailed schedules of meetings and phone calls covering roughly half that period. AP first requested Mrs. Clinton’s calendars and schedules in 2010 and again in 2013 but was unsuccessful. AP then sued the State Department in federal court to obtain the schedules it has received so far. AP expects to receive the remaining files before Election Day and will continue to examine them and report on their contents.

AP has been transparent in how it has reported this story. It focused on Mrs. Clinton’s meetings and calls involving people outside government who were not federal employees or foreign diplomats, because meeting with U.S. or foreign government officials would inherently have been part of her job as secretary of state.

We focused on Mrs. Clinton’s meetings and calls involving those people outside her duties as secretary of state whom she chose to include in her busy schedule.

This reporting was done by the same AP investigative team that discovered Mrs. Clinton’s private email server and traced it to her basement in Chappaqua, New York, and whose reporting last week resulted in the resignation of Donald Trump’s top campaign strategist. AP has been examining issues facing the presidential candidates and will continue to do so.
Point. Game. Match

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