Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cruising the Web

Politico has published an investigation into what Obama did in order to get the Iranian deal. The details are horrifying. As part of the deal President Obama announced a one-time release of seven Iranian-Americans that Obama described as "civilians" in exchange for Tehran's pledge to free five Americans. But Obama was lying to us about who these men were.
In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.

And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”
Politico goes on to detail the actions taken by these men that clearly indicate their support of terrorism such as conspiring to buy thousands of assault rifles or smuggling components for IEDs, the types that have been used to kill Americans in Iraq. And there was this guy:
The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.
The reaction from within the government was not at all happy.
When federal prosecutors and agents learned the true extent of the releases, many were shocked and angry. Some had spent years, if not decades, working to penetrate the global proliferation networks that allowed Iranian arms traders both to obtain crucial materials for Tehran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in some cases, to provide dangerous materials to other countries.

“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” said one former federal law enforcement supervisor centrally involved in the hunt for Iranian arms traffickers and nuclear smugglers. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.”
Obama's administration took action after action to smother progress that American officials had been making in the efforts to investigating Iran's efforts to procure and develop nuclear weapons.
In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort.

And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S.
Obama made sure to free people whom investigators knew were involved in getting weapons that killed Americans.
“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added, in reference to Ravan and the IED network.

The supervisor noted that in agreeing to lift crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Obama administration had insisted on retaining the right to go after Iran for its efforts to develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and cruise missiles that could penetrate U.S. defenses, and to illegally procure components for its nuclear, military and weapons systems.

“Then why would you be dismissing the people that you know about who are involved in that?” the former official asked.
Politico points out that reviews by Trump and Congress of the deal may mean that more of such details will come out. Expect angry federal prosecutors to testify about these men who were released and the damage done to national security because of Obama's idée fixe that anything and everything could be sacrificed in order to get the deal.
Even some initial supporters of negotiating with Iran said the disclosures are troubling.

“There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime,” said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate, who later turned against the accord. “The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage.”

Most, if not all, of the Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors involved in the Counterproliferation Initiative were kept in the dark about how their cases were being used as bargaining chips, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.

So were the federal agents from the FBI and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce who for years had been operating internationally, often undercover, on the front lines of the hunt for Iranian arms and weapons smugglers.

It wasn’t just that prosecutors and agents with years of detailed knowledge about the cases were left out of the consultations about the significance of the 21 men let go in the swap. The lack of input also meant that negotiators were making decisions without fully understanding how the releases would impact the broader and interconnected matrix of U.S. investigations.

At the time, those investigations were providing U.S. officials with a roadmap of how, exactly, Tehran was clandestinely building its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and maintaining its military with the unwitting assistance of so many U.S. weapons parts and technology companies. The cases were also providing key operational details of how the Iranian procurement networks operate, and who in Tehran was calling the shots.

“So when they downplayed it, it really infuriated people,” said Kenneth MacDonald, a former senior Homeland Security official who helped establish the multi-agency coordination center at the heart of the National Counterproliferation Initiative.

“They’d spent months or years on these cases and the decisions were made with no review of what the implications were,” said MacDonald, who retired in 2013 but keeps in contact with agents as co-principal investigator at the DHS-affiliated Institute for Security Policy at Northeastern University. “There was absolutely no consultation.”

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Caitlin Flanagan has a long essay in the Atlantic Magazine about the impact that late-night comedy hosts had in electing Trump. Their arrogant contempt for Americans whose views they disdain repels so many people, but then they turn around and bemoan how divided the country is. Flanagan is a liberal who has no problem deriding Trump and his aides, but argues that these comics have gone too far in their desire to ridicule anyone who is a conservative.
But somewhere along the way, the hosts of the late-night shows decided that they had carte blanche to insult not just the people within this administration, but also the ordinary citizens who support Trump, and even those who merely identify as conservatives. In March, Samantha Bee’s show issued a formal apology to a young man who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and whom the show had blasted for having “Nazi hair.” As it turned out, the young man was suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer—which a moment’s research on the producers’ part would have revealed: He had tweeted about his frightening diagnosis days before the conference. As part of its apology, the show contributed $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for his medical expenses, so now we know the price of a cancer joke.

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as “an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives.” He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy—who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult—was described as “Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form.” Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps.

Yes, yes, I know: She is a comedian, he is the president of the United States; there is no scale by which their words and actions can be reasonably compared. Yet while for Bee, as for so many in her field, Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” may have been a ravishing meme, Trump’s mockery of a war hero, grieving parents, and a disabled man showed how you get the job done. When John Oliver told viewers that if they opposed abortion they had to change the channel until the last minute of the program, when they would be shown “an adorable bucket of sloths,” he perfectly encapsulated the tone of these shows: one imbued with the conviction that they and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right. Two days before the election, every talking head on television was assuring us that Trump didn’t have a chance, because he lacked a “ground game.” After his victory, one had to wonder whether some part of his ground game had been conducted night after night after night on television, under flattering studio lights and with excellent production values and comedy writing.
What can conservatives assume but that these comedians and, by extension, the networks that air their shows, have contempt for their views?
It is hardly a reach for them to further imagine that the legitimate news shows on these channels are run by similarly partisan players—nor is it at all illogical. No wonder so many of Trump’s followers are inclined to believe only the things that he or his spokespeople tell them directly—everyone else on the tube thinks they’re a bunch of trailer-park, Oxy-snorting half-wits who divide their time between retweeting Alex Jones fantasies and ironing their Klan hoods.
This is a similar argument that Ross Douthat made in his September essay, "Clinton's Samantha Bee Problem."Douthat pointed out that the late-night comics are just one aspect of the echo chamber hectoring us on the virtuous verities of liberalism.
It isn’t just late-night TV. Cultural arenas and institutions that were always liberal are being prodded or dragged further to the left. Awards shows are being pushed to shed their genteel limousine liberalism and embrace the race-gender-sexual identity agenda in full. Colleges and universities are increasingly acting as indoctrinators for that same agenda, shifting their already-lefty consensus under activist pressure.

Meanwhile, institutions that were seen as outside or sideways to political debate have been enlisted in the culture war. The tabloid industry gave us the apotheosis of Caitlyn Jenner, and ESPN gave her its Arthur Ashe Award. The N.B.A., N.C.A.A. and the A.C.C. — nobody’s idea of progressive forces, usually — are acting as enforcers on behalf of gay and transgender rights. Jock culture remains relatively reactionary, but even the N.F.L. is having its Black Lives Matters moment, thanks to Colin Kaepernick.

For the left, these are clear signs of cultural gains, cultural victory. But the scale and swiftness of those victories have created two distinctive political problems for the Democratic Party.
One problem is that those on the left are so used to dominating the culture that they have determined that any other views are not only wrong, but so dangerous that they must be banned from the public sphere. And Hillary Clinton had to move left to accommodate these views. Now that she has lost, the Democratic Party is in the same boat.

The Democrats bring in celebrities to try to win elections such as in the Georgia special election. Well, it's not at all obvious that voters, particularly in red districts, care when celebrities tell them how to vote. Didn't we see celebrities line up by the dozens to support Hillary against Trump and it didn't seem to make all that much difference. You can't keep telling people how odious and ignorant they are and then expect them to listen to your opinions on how to vote. They know that such celebrities don't care about them except when it comes time to cast ballots. The prototypical moment came when actress Alyssa Milano, who had spent a lot of time and money trying to get Jon Ossoff over 50% in the Georgia election and then tweeted out that she wanted to puke when the results were clear.

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This is how ridiculous the United Nations is - they've now put Saudi Arabia on the Commission on the Status of Women. Saudi Arabia? In case you don't know,Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch reminds us of the terrible way in which Saudi Arabia treats women.
“Saudi discrimination against women is gross and systematic in law and in practice. Every Saudi woman,” said Neuer, “must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death. Saudi Arabia bans women from driving cars. Why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading promoter of gender inequality to sit on its gender equality commission?”

Saudi women feel betrayed by the UN. “I wish I could find the words to express how I feel right know. I’m ‘saudi’ and this feels like betrayal,”tweeted a self-described Saudi woman pursuing a doctorate in international human rights law in Australia.”

“Today the UN sent a message that women’s rights can be sold out for petro-dollars and politics,” said Neuer, “and it let down millions of female victims worldwide who look to the world body for protection.”
Neuer links to a story from 2015 of how Saudi Arabia got a seat on the UN Human RIghts Council. It's simple - they buy the votes.
Leaked Saudi cables, however, document what we knew all along: that despite the UNHRC’s official membership criteria — “the candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto” — dictatorships strike backroom deals to elect each other onto the 47-nation body, in Kofi Annan’s words, “not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others.”

Amid the trove of Saudi diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks are at least a dozen that explain how the Saudis bought their seat with money, and by bartering their UN votes.

In this cable, Riyadh approves “one hundred thousand dollars” for their UNHRC “election campaign.” As there were no TV ads to win over the other UN ambassadors, what did the money go for?

In this cable, the Saudis approach the Russians for a deal:
The Government of Saudi Arabia has the honor to propose an arrangment of reciprocal suport wherein the Government of Saudi Arabia would gladly support the candidature of the Government of Russia to the Human Rights Council, on the understanding that the Government of Russia would also extend its valuable support to the candidature of Saudi Arabia for membership in the Human Rights Council (HRC) for the period 2013-2016 at the election to be held in May 2013.
The same unethical vote trading pacts are struck with Mexico, Nigeria, and countless others named in the various cables.

Over the next two weeks, the UNHRC will be preoccupied with the report of its Commission of Inquiry into Israel’s alleged crimes in Gaza, expected to be released tomorrow.

While no EU states supported the one-sided inquiry when it was adopted last July, Russia and Saudi Arabia did.

And over the next two weeks, both Russia, which is waging a brutal war in Ukraine that has killed some 7,000 civilians, prompting no UN inquiry, and Saudi Arabia, whose indiscriminate bombing of Yemen is largely responsible for the 2200 killed, 10,000 wounded, 20 million in desperate need of aid, with no UN inquiry, will show solemn outrage over the report against Israel, and enthusiastically join the chorus of condemnation.
Why anyone would care what the UN says about anything is beyond me.

Howard Dean has doubled down on his argument that Ann Coulter's speech at Berkeley can be banned under the First Amendment. Jim Geraghty exposes how deeply ignorant Dean is.
Actually, it’s not a close call; Dean is making the wrong call under the Constitution. Dean’s entire answer piles wrong argument atop wrong argument until he completes a Dagwood sandwich of wrong.

Dean cites three court cases, and he mischaracterizes the decisions in all of them. The first case he references, Snyder v. Phelps, was an 8 to 1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church’s freedom to chant the horrible slogans and hold up the horrible banners it favors at a military funeral. If the church is free to protest at a military funeral, it makes no sense to argue that Ann Coulter is not free to give a speech at Berkeley. Dean is perhaps unknowingly citing a case that argues the reverse of his position.

The second case Dean cites, Virginia v. Black, struck down a state law that deemed cross-burning a prima facie attempt at intimidation. The decision was complicated, with multiple justices concurring in part and dissenting in part, but its upshot was that if prosecutors wanted to charge someone with a crime for burning a cross, they had to prove that the cross-burner intended his action as a threat.

“Criminal threats”, “intimidation” and criminal harassment are already crimes on the books in many states. If Ann Coulter explicitly threatens an individual in her speech, she can be charged with a crime for that. But whatever her flaws, Coulter is unlikely to make an explicit incitement to violence in a speech at Berkeley.
Geraghty then goes on to discuss why Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire doesn't allow censorship of hate speech as Eugene Volokh has explained. Geraghty concludes,
Without knowing what Coulter would say in her speech, Dean suggests that it would contain “fighting words,” given her history of using “words you can’t say on television” to describe minorities. Given the “words you can’t say on television” have no bearing on the constitutionality of an (as-yet-undelivered) speech at Berkeley, the one-time front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination seems to be insisting that just by being offensive, Coulter’s words incite violence and must be restricted and banned. It is fair to ask Dean and his ilk why they are so focused on restricting and punishing speech that supposedly “incites” violence and much less focused on punishing those who actually commit violent acts.

If Dean’s real desire is to ban speech that he doesn’t like, he should just say so.

David French has an idea of how to uphold freedom of speech on college campuses given that pusillanimous administrators cave to protesting students.
If we can’t count on courts or colleges to protect free speech, then it’s time for Congress to step up. There’s a remarkably simple solution to the problem of free speech, at least on public university campuses: Adjust the incentives. Make it costlier to censor than to protect the Constitution.
At public universities, campus censors have the freedom to speak, but they do not have the freedom to oppress.
All it would take is a law holding that if a court of final jurisdiction finds that a public university has violated the constitutional rights of a student or faculty member, then the university will pay liquidated damages to the plaintiff in the amount of no less than $5 million. It will also forfeit 25 percent of its federal funding in that current fiscal year. If a university is a repeat offender at any point in the five years following, it will forfeit 100 percent of its federal funding in that fiscal year.

Here’s what will happen: Universities will respond with all the energy and fury of a person experiencing an electric shock. The rule of law will be restored, and our essential liberties will be protected anew.

Does all this sound draconian? It’s not. The primary task of any public official in the United States is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It doesn’t matter how well you perform your secondary role, whether it’s governing a state, distributing drivers’ licenses, or even teaching biology — if you fail in the primary task of preserving our constitutional republic, you have no business calling yourself a public servant.

Furthermore, such a strong political statement in favor of free speech will have a potent cultural effect. Private universities that choose to maintain totalitarian enclaves will face powerful market pressures from more-free and less-expensive public universities, and the contrast between liberty and oppression will be made clear for all to see. (It’s worth noting, too, that private universities are not immune from civil law. Mob violence is just as unlawful on private property as it is on a public campus, and law enforcement cannot and must not stand aside when radicals riot.)

At public universities, campus censors have the freedom to speak, but they do not have the freedom to oppress. Constitutional protections are meaningless if the law can’t provide an adequate remedy for their infringement. It’s time to change the calculus. It’s time to crush campus censorship.

Here's the newest example of how university authorities redefine racism, this time from Oxford.
Students who avoid making eye contact with their peers could be guilty of racism, according to Oxford University’s latest guidance.

The university’s Equality and Diversity Unit has advised students that “not speaking directly to people” could be deemed a “racial microaggression” which can lead to “mental ill-health”.
So if not making eye contact makes you a racist, what about cultures what about cultures which have different attitudes toward eye contact?
While the many cultures of the Middle Eastern countries can hardly be grouped together, they do have a few common trends – one of which is their use of eye contact.

Eye contact is less common, and considered less appropriate than in Western cultures. There are strict gender rules, whereby women should not make too much eye contact with men as it could be misconstrued as a romantic interest....

In countries such as China and Japan, eye contact is not considered an essential to social interaction, instead it is often considered inappropriate. In such an authoritarian culture, it is believed that subordinates shouldn’t make steady eye contact with their superiors.

For example, students are discouraged from making eye contact with their professors, as it can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect. Similarly a daughter will point her eyes downwards when her father is speaking to her, as a sign of politeness and respect.

Many African and Latin American cultures, while unique in many ways, remain strong hierarchical societies. In many circumstances intense eye contact is seen as aggressive, confrontational and extremely disrespectful.

Eye contact is so subtly ingrained into every culture that it is something which is rarely even considered before travelling abroad.

Westerner’s use of eye contact could be deemed inappropriate, and even disrespectful, in many other cultures – so make sure you learn the use of eye contact and body language before you jet off!
Perhaps Oxford officials can take some lessons on how their assertions on how not making eye contact is a racist micro-aggression is...rather, you know, racist.

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Well, now they tell us.
A former member of the Obama administration claims Washington D.C. often uses “misleading” news releases about climate data to influence public opinion.

Former Energy Department Undersecretary Steven Koonin told The Wall Street Journal Monday that bureaucrats within former President Barack Obama’s administration spun scientific data to manipulate public opinion.

“What you saw coming out of the press releases about climate data, climate analysis, was, I’d say, misleading, sometimes just wrong,” Koonin said, referring to elements within the Obama administration he said were responsible for manipulating climate data.

He pointed to a National Climate Assessment in 2014 showing hurricane activity has increased from 1980 as an illustration of how federal agencies fudged climate data. Koonin said the NCA’s assessment was technically incorrect.

“What they forgot to tell you, and you don’t know until you read all the way into the fine print is that it actually decreased in the decades before that,” he said. The U.N. published reports in 2014 essentially mirroring Koonin’s argument.