Thursday, September 08, 2016

Cruising the Web

Now that the administration has admitted that they paid the entire $1.7 billion ransom to Iran in cash, Claudia Rosett, who's been a dynamo on this story, has some questions for the Attorney General.
The administration’s secrecy about this cash-for-Iran saga has been so extreme that for more than seven months, officials refused to disclose the date on which the $1.3 billion was paid out by the Judgment Fund. That mystery was solved when this reporter, writing in the Sun, broke the story late last month that the money had been paid in 13 sums of $99,999,999.99, totaling just 13 cents short of $1.3 billion, along with a 14th payment of just over $10 million. All payments were on January 19, but two days after the settlement was announced.

One possible explanation for the breakdown of the $1.3 billion lump sum into multiple payments is that the U.S. dollars were transferred electronically by Treasury to the foreign central banks where they were exchanged for the foreign hard currency delivered to Iran. The Automated Clearing House format for electronic transfers allows for a maximum of 11 digits. As a lump sum, including two decimal points, the Iran payment would have needed 12 digits.
Rosett has been poring through the records of this Judgment Fund and found that, on the online database of payments going back to when it was created in 2002, no Attorney General had authorized any payment at all. But not in Obama's second term. It seems mighty suspicious.
Then, during Mr. Obama’s second term came a flurry of 37 payments under precisely this set of headings, all over a period of just under two years. These included 23 relatively small payments totaling just under $2.3 million, scattered across the years 2014 (11 payments) and 2015 (12 payments). This burst of activity culminated this January with the 14 whopping payments totaling $1.31 billion — which the administration has now confirmed were for Iran. There have been none since.

Whether any of the 23 payments in 2014 and 2015 were also related to Iran is hard to determine. The Judgment Fund’s annual “transparency” reports to Congress are opaque. Some entries omit any explanation of what the case was about, most give no clue as to where the money went. The most recent report was filed almost a year ago.

What’s striking, in any event, is that the interval for this series of 37 identically authorized and generically categorized payments happens to coincide almost perfectly with the timeline of the Iran nuclear deal, from the opening of talks in Vienna in February 2014, through to implementation in January 2016. Was this sheer coincidence? Was the administration quietly priming the pump for the big payout to Iran this January?

In a telephone press background briefing on January 17, the day the Iran settlement was announced, a senior administration official mentioned that “we settled a number of smaller claims over the last four or five months.” The administration has confirmed that two such settlements involved the return to Iran of fossils and architectural drawings. But, albeit on a smaller scale, are there yet more financial payments to discover?
Rosett is right. Loretta Lynch needs to answer these questions.

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Obama continues to have no compunction about criticizing the U.S. or Americans while he's abroad. Yesterday at a townhall meeting in Laos, Obama repeatedly called Americans lazy.
During a townhall meeting in Laos, President Barack Obama called Americans “lazy” multiple times.

For one, Obama said Americans’ reluctance to embrace his favored environmental policies is a sign of laziness.
We're also culturally lazy.
Obama said, “You know I believe that the United States is and can be a great force for good in the world but because we are such a big country we haven’t always had to know about other parts of the world. If you are in Laos you need to know about Thailand and China and Cambodia because you are a small country and they are right next door and you need to know who they are. If you are in the United States sometimes you can feel lazy and think, ‘You know we are so big we don’t have to really know anything about other people.’ And that’s part of what I’m trying to change.”
I'll grant that Laotians know more about Thailand and Cambodia and China than the average American, though I really don't know if that's true. But I wonder how much they know about our neighboring countries. How much do they know about any country in the Western Hemisphere? Of course, I don't know how much any American knows about such countries either. But laziness isn't the culprit. I'd blame lack of interest is to blame. But there are a whole lot of subjects that the average American doesn't know about. Though I am not sure that the average Laotian knows more. I do know that we don't need the president of the United States making fun of Americans to foreign audiences.

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John Schindler explains how Hillary Clinton's emails included highly classified NSA information as well as as other classified materials.
The FBI examined 81 Clinton email chains, determining that they included classified information relating to the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, NSA, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency or NGA. In other words, Hillary compromised classified materials representing the full range of American espionage: human intelligence or HUMINT from CIA, signals intelligence or SIGINT from NSA, and imagery intelligence or IMINT from NGA.

Of those 81 classified email chains, the FBI assessed that 37 of them included Secret information while eight included Top Secret information. Worse, seven email chains included Special Access Program or SAP information, which is tightly protected by the Intelligence Community and shared on a restricted, need-to-know basis only.

Three more email chains contained Sensitive Compartmented Information or SCI, which was almost certainly SIGINT from NSA. SCI always requires special protection and handling. In fact, you’re only allowed to access it inside a specially-built Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a SCIF (pronounced “skiff”) in spy-speak. Any exposure of SCI brings severe penalties—at least if you’re not named Clinton.
And yet she continually tells us how important classified information is to her and how she understands it.

The NSA information came from a report sent to her by Sidney Blumenthal on Sudan.
NSA had no doubt that Blumenthal somehow got his hands on some of their “crown jewels” information. “It’s word-for-word, verbatim copying,” an agency official of them explained. “In one case, an entire paragraph was lifted from an NSA report” that was classified Top Secret/SCI. To add to the mystery, Sid emailed Hillary his “personal” assessment on Sudan only hours after some of those classified NSA reports were issued.

Somehow Sid Blumenthal—who in 2011 was not working for the U.S. government in any capacity and had not held security clearances in a decade—was reading above-top-secret NSA reports just hours after they appeared in tightly restricted GAMMA channels.
Blumenthal had a retired senior CIA official working for him and some suspect that he was the source for the NSA leak. But he died last year so we don't really know. And Hillary is just downplaying the whole story. And, because of redactions in the FBI reports we don't know if they asked her specifically about Blumenthal's Sudan report. But they should inform us that there was such information on her server that she was receiving and forwarding.
What the Intelligence Community terms the “fact of” what happened—meaning classified details are omitted—is something the public has a right to know before November 8. Details aren’t necessary—those are rightly kept classified—but the FBI needs to level with the American people. Not admitting that above-top-secret NSA information was compromised only furthers the Clintonian cover-up at this point.

The Bureau punted on recommending Clinton for prosecution in EmailGate, which reeks of dirty Washington politics. Why has the FBI now let her off the hook for her role in the compromise of extraordinarily classified American intelligence? Any normal citizen who put compartmented SIGINT on the open internet would be frog-walked into federal custody without delay.

The public has a right to know how Top Secret/SCI and GAMMA intelligence, some of our country’s most tightly guarded secrets, wound up in Sid Blumenthal’s hands, quickly.

Bill Clinton thinks he's better than Robin Hood due to his foundation, but without the robbery. Ed Morrissey is not so impressed with Clinton's claim.
Well … not precisely. The Clinton Foundation got rich people to give their money to the Clinton Foundation, which then turned around and spent some of the money on poor people. How much? This is where the “wee percentage” comes in. The Federalist took a look at its actual output relative to income, and discovered that more of the money given by rich people went to employee compensation for foundation personnel than to poor people:
Between 2009 and 2012, the Clinton Foundation raised over $500 million dollars according to a review of IRS documents by The Federalist (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008). A measly 15 percent of that, or $75 million, went towards programmatic grants. More than $25 million went to fund travel expenses. Nearly $110 million went toward employee salaries and benefits. And a whopping $290 million during that period — nearly 60 percent of all money raised — was classified merely as “other expenses.” Official IRS forms do not list cigar or dry-cleaning expenses as a specific line item. The Clinton Foundation may well be saving lives, but it seems odd that the costs of so many life-saving activities would be classified by the organization itself as just random, miscellaneous expenses.
It got worse in 2013:....The pass-through rate for 2013 was just 6.4%. Coincidentally, that’s also the same year that Hillary Clinton left the State Department and began planning for her 2016 run at the presidency. A number of her aides ended up back in the employment of the Clinton Foundation, another coincidence. And let’s not forget Bill Clinton’s massive income windfall during Hillary’s tenure at State, which certainly helped keep the Clintons as far from poverty as possible.
I don't think he understands what helping the poor really means.

Economist Deirdre McCloskey, author of a series of books looking at how countries become richer (The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity, and Bourgeois Equality) explains her thesis that the real reason some countries become richer is the extent to which they embrace equality, liberty, and justice. Too bad that Bill Clinton doesn't understand hese truths.
You might think the rich have become richer and the poor even poorer. But by the standard of basic comfort in essentials, the poorest people on the planet have gained the most. In places like Ireland, Singapore, Finland and Italy, even people who are relatively poor have adequate food, education, lodging and medical care — none of which their ancestors had. Not remotely.

Inequality of financial wealth goes up and down, but over the long term it has been reduced. Financial inequality was greater in 1800 and 1900 than it is now, as even the French economist Thomas Piketty has acknowledged. By the more important standard of basic comfort in consumption, inequality within and between countries has fallen nearly continuously.

In any case, the problem is poverty, not inequality as such — not how many yachts the L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has, but whether the average Frenchwoman has enough to eat. At the time of “Les Misérables,” she didn’t. In the last 40 years, the World Bank estimates, the proportion of the population living on an appalling $1 or $2 a day has halved. Paul Collier, an Oxford economist, urges us to help the “bottom billion” of the more than seven billion people on earth. Of course. It is our duty. But he notes that 50 years ago, four billion out of five billion people lived in such miserable conditions. In 1800, it was 95 percent of one billion.

We can improve the conditions of the working class. Raising low productivity by enabling human creativity is what has mainly worked. By contrast, taking from the rich and giving to the poor helps only a little — and anyway expropriation is a one-time trick
So what does McCloskey think caused this Great Enrichment?
Not exploitation of the poor, not investment, not existing institutions, but a mere idea, which the philosopher and economist Adam Smith called “the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” In a word, it was liberalism, in the free-market European sense. Give masses of ordinary people equality before the law and equality of social dignity, and leave them alone, and it turns out that they become extraordinarily creative and energetic.

The liberal idea was spawned by some happy accidents in northwestern Europe from 1517 to 1789 — namely, the four R’s: the Reformation, the Dutch Revolt, the revolutions of England and France, and the proliferation of reading. The four R’s liberated ordinary people, among them the venturing bourgeoisie. The Bourgeois Deal is, briefly, this: In the first act, let me try this or that improvement. I’ll keep the profit, thank you very much, though in the second act those pesky competitors will erode it by entering and disrupting (as Uber has done to the taxi industry). By the third act, after my betterments have spread, they will make you rich.

And they did.
Perhaps, Bill Clinton could spend some of his tens of millions by buying copies of McCloskey's books of economic history.

Remember back in 1984 when Gary Trudeau wrote in Doonesbury that George H.W. Bush had "put his manhood in a blind trust"? Well it seems that James Comey has put the FBI's honor into a blind trust operated by the Clintons. The WSJ writes,
Mr. Comey’s concessions start with his decision not to interview Mrs. Clinton until the end of his investigation, a mere three days before he announced his conclusions. Regular FBI practice is to get a subject on the record early then see if his story meshes with what agents find. In this case they accepted Mrs. Clinton’s I-don’t-recall defenses after the fact.

The notes also show the G-men never did grill Mrs. Clinton on her “intent” in setting up her server. Instead they bought her explanation that it was for personal convenience. This helped Mr. Comey avoid concluding that her purpose was to evade statutes like the Federal Records Act. Mr. Comey also told Congress that indicting her without criminal intent would pose a constitutional problem. But Congress has written many laws that don’t require criminal intent, and negligent homicide (for example) has never been unconstitutional.

The FBI notes also blow past evidence that Clinton advisers may have engaged in a cover-up. Consider page 10 of the FBI report: “Clinton’s immediate aides, to include [Huma] Abedin, [Cheryl] Mills, Jacob Sullivan, and [redacted] told the FBI they were unaware of the existence of the private server until after Clinton’s tenure at State or when it became public knowledge.”

That’s amazing given that Ms. Abedin had her own email account on the private server. It is also contradicted by page 3: “At the recommendation of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s long-time aide and later Deputy Chief of Staff at State, in or around fall 2008, [ Bill Clinton aide Justin] Cooper contacted Bryan Pagliano . . . to build the new server system and to assist Cooper with the administration of the new server system.”

The FBI must also have ignored two emails referred to by the State Inspector General showing Ms. Mills and Ms. Abedin discussing the server while they worked at State: “hrc email coming back—is server okay?” Ms. Mills asked Ms. Abedin and Mr. Cooper in a Feb. 27, 2010 email.

“I had to shut down the server,” wrote Mr. Cooper to Ms. Abedin on Jan. 9, 2011, noting that “someone was trying to hack us.” In an Aug. 30, 2011 email released through a lawsuit, State Department Executive Secretary Stephen Mull informs Ms. Mills, Ms. Abedin and others that he believed Mrs. Clinton’s current Blackberry was malfunctioning “possibly because of [sic] her personal email server is down.”

Ms. Mills has a particular reason for denying early knowledge of the server: She became Mrs. Clinton’s personal lawyer after they both left State. If Ms. Mills knew about the server while at State, she’d be subject to questions about the server. But if she didn’t know about the server until leaving State, she can argue that conversations with Mrs. Clinton are protected by attorney-client privilege. The FBI ignored all this, and it even allowed Ms. Mills to accompany Mrs. Clinton to her FBI interview as Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer.

There’s more the G-men ignored. Starting on page 18, the FBI notes that on March 2, 2015, the New York Times broke the news about Mrs. Clinton’s private server. On March 4, 2015, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued a subpoena for Mrs. Clinton to produce emails from The FBI notes that in the days following the New York Times story, Ms. Mills “requested that PRN [Platte River Networks, the outside company then maintaining the Clinton technology] conduct a complete inventory of all equipment related to [the Clinton server]. And on March 25, PRN “held a conference call with President Clinton’s staff.”

A PRN employee then sometime “between March 25-31, 2015 deleted the Clinton archive mailbox from the PRN server.” The FBI reports that it had found a “PRN work ticket, which referenced a conference call among PRN, [Hillary attorney David] Kendall, and Mills on March 31, 2015.” The PRN employee was advised by an attorney “not to comment on the conversation with Kendall based upon the assertion of attorney-client privilege.”

The FBI report also suggests that the PRN employee initially told investigators he was unaware of the House preservation order, then later changed his story to say he was aware of the order and “the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton’s email data on the PRN server.”

What was said in those PRN conversations with Ms. Mills, Clinton aides and Mr. Kendall? Why the sudden Clinton rush to deal with a server that had been sitting quietly for so long? Usually, the FBI is keenly interested in any potential destruction of evidence—especially evidence under subpoena. Yet the FBI didn’t explore the details of the convenient archive deletions.

John Podhoretz watched the forum last night on NBC in which Matt Lauer asked questions of both candidates concerning their ability to be commander in chief. Mostly, as Podhoretz writes, it revealed how neither of them should be given that job, although God help us, one of them will.
Listening to Clinton prevaricate about her emails and Trump prevaricate about positions he holds and doesn’t entirely seem to understand once again raises the unholy horror of the fact that out of 330 million people in the United States, these are the two who have ended up in the race for the White House in 2016.
Lauer spent about 7 minutes asking her about her private server and whether this disqualified her from the presidency. She assured us that she takes classified information very seriously. Does anyone believe this?
She has tried out various approaches to this matter, from saying she made an error for which she had no excuse (a line she repeated to Lauer) to saying she did nothing wrong and had nothing to apologize for. But last night her chutzpah reached an all-time high when she pointed out there was all kinds of evidence government servers had been hacked but no evidence her private server had been hacked.

The clear suggestion here was that Hillary Clinton had been a better steward of the classified information of the United States government than the United States government—even though she had just said it had been a mistake to set up her private server in the first place. By what logic, then, should she consider her conduct a mistake?

The simple fact of the matter is that there’s no defense for what she did, since she did it in bad faith to shield her email improperly from future public discovery—and would have succeeded had the events in Benghazi not occurred on her watch. So now she simply uses every opportunity she has to create new smokescreens simply to evade more thorough and direct questioning.
She just has no good answer for this question.
An Air Force and Navy veteran, who said he held "the top secret sensitive compartmentalized information clearance," challenged Clinton's actions as secretary of state live on MSNBC's commander-in-chief forum.

"Had I communicated this information not following prescribed protocols, I would have been prosecuted and imprisoned," said the veteran, identified by MSNBC as a Republican. "Secretary Clinton, how can you expect those such as myself who were and are trusted with America's most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?"
And then there was this Clinton claim that should come back to bite her if the media were on the case.
“When [former Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi was threatening to massacre his population, I put together a coalition that included NATO, included the Arab League, and we were able to save lives. We did not lose a single American in that action,” she said. “And I think taking action was the right decision. Not taking it and permitting there to be an ongoing civil war in Libya would’ve been as dangerous and threatening as what we are now seeing in Syria.”
Er, what about the four Americans, including an ambassador killed there? She made the same claim back in March. She just repeats this stuff as if no one knows the facts. Is she that clueless or that cynical? I know how I'd vote.

Of course, Trump continues to be a jerk who seems to know nothing or care little about reality when it comes to foreign policy.
But at least she didn’t spend three minutes of her time sucking up to Vladimir Putin, the way Donald Trump did. Trump not only praised the Russian thug’s leadership and cited the KGB goon’s poll numbers, but appeared to draw a comparison between Putin and Barack Obama that favored Putin. I’m the opposite of an Obama fan, but that’s just disgusting. Obama hasn’t had reporters killed, hasn’t choked off press freedoms, hasn’t swallowed up Crimea, and isn’t seeking imperial dominion of America’s geographical neighbors.

Some other choice gems included this one: “Our generals have been reduced to rubble.” Even for a guy who once intimated that attempting to evade sexually-transmitted diseases during the 1970s had been his own personal Vietnam, this was low.

It was said in response to a question about his claim that he knew more about ISIS than the country’s generals. After the “rubble” remark, he claimed both that he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS and that he didn’t have a secret plan to defeat ISIS. Or at least I think that’s what hesaid. Who knows.

Democracy, the great cynic H.L. Mencken once said, “is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” And boy, are we going to get it, one way or another, come November.

It seems that we have yet another area where Trump is flip-flopping. Not that that would be anything new. He flips back and forth on previous statements on almost a daily basis.
Trump’s address also included plans to eliminate deep spending cuts known as the “sequester” that were enacted when Congress failed to reach a budget compromise in 2011. Republicans and Democrats voted for the automatic, across-the board cuts that affected both military and domestic programs, though the White House has long pressed Congress to lift the spending limits.

Trump expressed support for the sequester in interviews in 2013 — even describing them as too small — but seemed to suggest at the time that military spending should be exempt.

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Well, this is one method of fighting illegal drugs and terrorism.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to personally tear apart and eat Abu Sayyaf militants, in a bloodthirsty vow of revenge for deadly attacks.

"They will pay. When the time comes, I will eat you in front of people," Duterte told an audience of Filipinos late on Monday night while in Laos for a regional summit. "If you make me mad, in all honesty, I will eat you alive, raw."

...."I will really carve your torso open. Give me vinegar and salt and I will eat you. I'm not kidding," Duterte said, according to an official video of his speech posted on Tuesday. "These guys are beyond redemption."
We just don't have enough threats of cannibalism in American politics. I guess it's the only thing we're missing these days.

If you children who whine about their lives, show them these pictures. I like to show such pictures to my students when we're studying that era in history and then tell them that that is why I don't beat myself up over their complaints of having to spend time on homework.

Yesterday after school I had my annual eye exam. I always dread getting my eyes dilated. I just hate that. But I was so happily surprised that my optometrist had this new diagnostic tool that they can use in place of dilation. It was wonderful - just looking in the machine for a few seconds while the technician snapped a couple of pictures and we were done and then the doctor could show me pictures of what he was looking at to check out my eyes. I had no idea what he should be seeing there, but he seemed happy. Not getting dilated made my week! Technology - I love it.