Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Cruising the Web

I hope all my readers celebrating had a wonderful Christmas with their loved ones. Whether you're a believer or not, there is something lovely about a holiday devoted to celebrating love, family, and peace.

Tom Rogan looks at some of the common, yet dumb, reactions to Nikki Haley's UN speech. One basic criticism is that we shouldn't be threatening other countries that we'll pull financial aid if they don't vote our way - that that is just bullying.
From the most basic realist standpoint of international relations theory, however, such criticisms are patently idiotic. States act in their own interests and in this case, U.S. sovereignty is being challenged by an international organization. Recognizing the broader context of supranationalist authoritarianism, Haley and Trump are thus right to resist efforts to delegitimize the U.S. government.
Countries throughout the ages have used whatever advantage they had to persuade other countries to do what they want. It is idealistic nonsense to suppose that we should just unilaterally disarm economically in trying to pursue our ends. Liberals used to like it when Democrats like Hillary Clinton talked about using "soft power" to achieve American aims. Well, what do they think "soft power" is?

And the UN's overwhelming vote condemning the U.S.'s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was just, as David French writes, the everyday anti-Semitic bias at the United Nations.
It was anti-U.S. only to the extent that America was perceived to have taken action benefiting Israel. And if there is one thing the U.N. does reliably, it’s vote in lockstep against our strongest Middle East ally.

It’s so lockstep and so common that Congress requires the State Department to keep tabs on all anti-Israel General Assembly votes and publish the results. To understand how the nations of the world normally vote, I went and looked at the State Department’s report for every single year of the Obama administration. Each report contains a helpful table illustrating how each country voted and the percentage of the time they voted with the U.S. You can access them all here.

A few things stand out. First, the United States actually achieved more support (in both votes and abstentions) than it typically receives. Look at the reports. For example, in 2016 there were more than nine votes against an anti-Israel resolution only once out of 18 resolutions — and then there were only 11 votes. In 2015, there were again more than nine votes on only once out of 18 18 opportunities.
He then goes through the statistics of how many times countries like Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and India have voted with the United States on anti-Israel resolutions. News flash - they almost always vote on the other side. So last week's vote was nothing new.
The bottom line is abundantly obvious. The U.N. is disproportionately obsessed with Israel, and America’s closest NATO allies — including Britain, France, and Germany — disgracefully join the pile-on. Today’s vote wasn’t a “stinging rebuke” of the United States. It was anti-Semitic business as usual at the United Nations. The United States once again stood with Israel, and the rest of the world once again singled out the world’s only Jewish state for special scorn. Critics will have to look elsewhere for evidence of Trump administration failure. Today, it took its place alongside its predecessors in defense of a nation that all too often stands nearly alone
The question should be why such supposedly enlightened countries vote so consistently against Israel and the United States regardless if Trump or Obama is president.

Meanwhile, Eli Lake details how the U.S., aside from that one vote, actually had a good week at the United Nations. The Security Council voted 15-0 to impose new sanctions on North Korea. And we saw a good sign on Iran.
Finally, Haley won a personal diplomatic victory on Iran. This week German government spokesman Steffen Seibert acknowledged a recent UN report on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal that compiled evidence of Iranian missile transfers to Houthi rebels in Yemen. "The findings contained in the secretary-general's report reinforce our fears that Iran is violating the restrictions on the transfer of arms and ballistic missiles imposed on it," Seibert said. "The report contains several clear indications that there is Iranian involvement in the firing of missiles on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia on July 22 and November 4, i.e. missiles launched by the Houthis in Yemen."

This is important for two reasons. Haley this month personally presented evidence to the public at a U.S. military base of Iranian components found in the fragments of the missiles fired at Saudi Arabia. The UN confidential report on this did not reach the definitive conclusion that Haley raised, as Foreign Policy Magazine has reported. Nonetheless, the German government is concerned enough by the evidence that it is now saying it fears Iran has violated an important provision of the nuclear bargain.

It's also important because Germany was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump's decision to decline certifying Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal in October. The German government has sought to stay in the nuclear deal. Haley's efforts to prod the UN to examine the Iranian role in arming the Houthis are paying off. Trump's strategy has been to leverage the prospect of America leaving the nuclear deal to get European allies to address its flaws. Curbing Iran's weapons transfers is a good place to start.
European countries might not like to see evidence about how Iran is not complying with the nuclear deal, but they are having to confront reality.

In fact, as Rebeccah L. Heinrichs of the Hudson Institute writes, there is no evidence at all that the deal has gotten the world what we were told it would. There has been a pattern of overly idealistic goals from the Obama administration while ignoring all contrary evidence in its quest for a deal with Iran throughout the whole process. Obama's Utopian vision of a non-nuclear world ignored reality as well as ignoring how the sanctions on Iran were actually starting to bite.
In 2009 President Obama outlined his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and the centerpiece of this anti-nuclear weapon agenda was to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. The Obama team set out to negotiate a deal that would, supposedly, roll back the nuclear program and set up a verification regime to ensure compliance.

Many Iran-watchers were skeptical, to say the least. The regime was as repressive, anti-Zionist, and supportive of Islamist militancy as it ever was. Even if the Obama diplomats could verifiably totally dismantle the nuclear program, flushing the regime with cash without requiring reform in other areas seemed dangerously foolish. And it took years of diplomatic heavy-lifting for the United States to build consensus among other nations to isolate Iran.

Sanctions may not have finally prevented Iran from stopping its nuclear program, but they were really starting to hurt the regime. After all, it was the pain from those sanctions and isolation that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.

But President Obama sought to allay concerns, insisting he was willing to walk away if the deal wasn’t good. This was quickly disproven.

For example, Iran was permitted to keep some key technology necessary for making a nuclear weapon. While only at lower levels, Iran was permitted to continue enriching uranium, an irreversible blow to what’s left of the nonproliferation regime. We were promised "anytime, anywhere" inspections, but by the time the deal was done, verification, while still hailed as the toughest verification regime in history, still only allows managed access to Iranian sites, and the agreement was written with such ambiguity as to allow the Iranians to continue to insist certain sites remain off limits.

Also, Obama officials, with great messaging discipline, insisted all Iranian malignant activity “unrelated” to the nuclear program, would be addressed in other ways, but excluded from Iran deal negotiations.

What about Iran's illicit missile program? We were told by the lead U.S. negotiator, Wendy Sherman, it would be addressed in some way, even if excluded from the terms of the Iran deal. What about Iran's terrorism? We were told terrorism-related sanctions would remain in place. Even so, John Kerry and Susan Rice admitted that the money from the Iran deal would almost certainly be used to fund Iran's continued terrorism activities.
So we gave Iran billions of dollars and lifted the sanction for a very narrow deal that would serve only to delay Iran's breakout to militarizing their nuclear abilities by a few months. The Obama administration knew that IRan would use some of those billions to fund terrorism in the region as well as military efforts that threatened American soldiers, but they persisted. They knew that the deal wouldn't block Iran's efforts or stop them from grabbing more hostages, but they persisted. They knew that Iran would continue to do research into ballistic missiles, but they persisted.

I guess it shouldn't surprise us any more that the MSM will ignore or give slight attention to any story that makes the Obama administration look bad. We saw that throughout his presidency. But somehow I keep getting surprised. I would have thought that a story, generated by Politico - not a far-right source, that the Obama administration went light on Hezbollah's support of terrorism and drug dealing, would have generated some interest in the rest of the media. Well, not so much.
Politico published a jaw-dropping, meticulously sourced investigative piece this week detailing how the Obama administration had secretly undermined US law enforcement agency efforts to shut down an international drug-trafficking ring run by the terror group Hezbollah. The effort was part of a wider push by the administration to placate Iran and ensure the signing of the nuclear deal.

Now swap out “Trump” for “Obama” and “Russia” for “Iran” and imagine the eruption these revelations would generate. Because, by any conceivable journalistic standard, this scandal should’ve triggered widespread coverage and been plastered on front pages across the country. By any historic standard, the scandal should elicit outrage regarding the corrosion of governing norms from pundits and editorial boards.
Yet, as it turns out, there’s an exceptionally good chance most of your neighbors and colleagues haven’t heard anything about it.

Days after the news broke, in fact, neither NBC News, ABC News nor CBS News — whose shows can boast a collective 20 million viewers — had been able to find the time to relay the story to its sizeable audiences. Other than Fox News, cable news largely ignored the revelations as well....

What makes the media blackout particularly shameful is that the story isn’t a partisan hit job. It was written by a well-regarded journalist at a major outlet. The story has two on-the-record sources — which is more than we can say for the vast majority of so-called scoops about the Russian “collusion” investigation. One of these sources, David Asher, was an illicit finance expert at the Pentagon who was tapped to run the investigation. There’s no plausible reason to ignore him or the story.

Then again, ignoring or diminishing Obama’s shady dealings with Iran isn’t new. Obama administration officials bragged to the New York Times Magazine last year that they’d created an echo chamber, relying on the ignorance, inexperience and partisan dispositions of reporters to convey their lies to the American people.
We saw this when the Obama administration claimed it was releasing 14 Iranian civilians on humanitarian grounds, when in fact it was releasing spies and weapons dealers. Or when Team Obama claimed diplomacy had won US hostages’ release, when it fact it had sent hundreds of millions of euros, Swiss francs and other currencies on wooden pallets in unmarked planes to Iran. The press was uninterested in those stories, too.
The Washington Post did have a story by Erik Wemple about how former Obama officials are criticizing the Politico story. After detailing the gist of Josh Meyer's Politico story, Wemple discusses the pushback from Obama officials. THey're critical of the story, but note what's missing from their criticism.
Since the story hit the Internet this week and has gained traction on other outlets, including NPR, more officials are coming forward with their own thoughts on the piece. The pushback doesn’t cite any factual errors involving the story’s claims about shut-down investigations and the like.
They claim that the Obama administration was rigorous in countering Hezbollah and that Meyer missed the big picture and one of his sources opposed the Iran deal. But what specifically was false in the story? And I still don't see any substantive argument of how well the Iran deal has worked out. As Rebecca Heinrichs wrote above, with the Obama administration's willingness to buy into phony Iranian promises and close their eyes to the reality of Iran's malevolent actions, why should we doubt the Politico story?
The Politico report is indeed a bombshell. But it’s really not surprising. The question we should all be asking at this point is, what other concessions did the Obama administration make that are out there waiting for more bold journalists to uncover?

Bret Stephens calls the Democrats out for their hypocrisy on painting the GOP tax bill as Armageddon when, just recently, they were calling for cuts in the corporate tax rate. Do they think that all those quotes have disappeared into a black hole?
“Our current corporate tax system is outdated, unfair and inefficient. It provides tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas and hits companies that choose to stay in America with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It is unnecessarily complicated and forces America’s small businesses to spend countless hours and dollars filing their taxes. It’s not right and it needs to change.”

That was Barack Obama in 2012, with a proposal to cut rates to 28 percent. Other prominent Democrats who have previously called for cutting corporate taxes include Tim Geithner, Ms. Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer.

Maybe the current bill cuts the rate too far — or, as I think, doesn’t cut it far enough. Maybe the argument that companies will use additional revenues to hire more workers is too optimistic, if only because the United States is already close to full employment. Maybe they’ll reward their shareholders instead — which, however, probably means you, assuming you have an I.R.A.

And maybe there’s something to be said for Google parking several billion dollars in profits in a Bermuda shell company, just to take advantage of the islands’ zero rate. It’s delightfully devious coming from the well-heeled apostles of “Don’t Be Evil.”

But the suggestion by senior Democrats that it is now a moral abomination to enact the very type of tax reform they themselves favored until quite recently smacks of partisan dishonesty, if not ideological hysteria. Many developed countries, including Germany, Sweden and Britain, have all slashed their corporate rates in recent years. Lo, the sky did not fall.
I thought that everything the Europeans did was good and worth emulating. Apparently not if it's the Republicans who are following their lead. Stephens also warns the Democrats of the risk they're taking about trashing a bill that, while unpopular now, might not be so unpopular once people start seeing that it didn't actually raise their taxes, but lowered them. And remember that polls showing that 58% of Americans don't like the bill is based on people not understanding what was in it. That 58% also includes a lot of Republicans who might be more likely to believe Republicans rather than Democrats about what is actually in the bill. Republicans coming home might change those numbers in the near future.

Meanwhile, Armageddon marches on.
The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: PNC) announced investments in its employee compensation and communities following the signing of the tax reform bill today.

PNC will:

Provide for employees in the defined benefit pension plan an additional $1,500 to their existing pension accounts.
Provide a $1,000 cash payment to approximately 47,500 employees in the first quarter of 2018. This will impact all employees below a certain compensation band, representing approximately 90 percent of PNC employees.
Raise the minimum pay rate to $15 an hour by the end of 2018, accelerating the goal that has been underway for some time.
Make a $200 million contribution to the PNC Foundation, which supports early childhood education through PNC's Grow Up Great® initiative.
"The tax reform law creates an opportunity to reward our employees who are working hard each day to serve our customers, build strong relationships in our communities and create long-term value for our shareholders," said William S. Demchak, PNC's chairman, president and chief executive officer. "The Board's decision to recognize our employees and support our communities is reflective of our commitment to PNC's success."

Bank of America will give some of its employees a $1,000 bonus, citing the tax bill that was just signed into law.

"Beginning in 2018, we will see benefits from the tax reform ... in the form of lower corporate tax rates," CEO Brian Moynihan said in an internal memo to employees obtained by CNBC. He also said that about 145,000 employees will receive the bonus.

IAT Insurance Group will pay a $3,000 bonus to all non-executive employees on January 15, 2018. The additional bonus comes in response to the newly passed tax reform bill – the tax savings will be shared with approximately 700 employees.

Sinclair, one of the largest owners of local television stations in the country, announced Friday that around 9,000 full and part-time employees at all of its stations and subsidiaries, excluding senior-level executives and employees covered by collective bargaining agreements currently being negotiated, will receive a $1,000 bonus.
Sensing a domino effect?

So CBS News looked at three sets of taxpayers to find out how the GOP plan would affect them

All three started out thinking that they would end up having to pay more. Such is the power of the spin that the Democrats and the media have been putting on the bill. All three are shocked to find out that they'll actually be paying less under the plan. They all seem happily surprised. Imagine as this gets played out across the country and people find out how the bill actually affects them rather than what the Democrats say.

Adam White simply destroys the obnoxiously partisan Laurence Tribe's claim that the the left has "played nice far too long on this," meaning judicial nominations. White reminds us of Tribe's own actions in intensifying partisan attacks on Republican nominees for the Supreme Court.
It's disgusting that Democrats try to pretend that they've been Caesar's wife in fights over judicial nominees. Compare how such nominees as Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan were treated compared to Republican nominees like Bork, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch. The blocking of Merrick Garland was a purely partisan move, but does anyone out there believe the Democrats wouldn't have done the same if the roles had been reversed? If you want to claim that, Google how the Democrats treated the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit simply because they didn't want to put a Hispanic judge in position to be elevated to the Supreme Court by Bush.
Go back to February 2003, the first weeks of a new Republican majority in the Senate, when Democrats were blocking a vote on D.C. court nominee Miguel Estrada. Liberal writer Dahlia Lithwick at Slate covered the upheaval around the filibuster and chastised Republicans for “the grotesque claim that Estrada is being blocked because he is Hispanic.”

But of course, that was why Democrats were filibustering Estrada. In November 2001, as Democrats debated whether to undertake an unprecedented filibuster of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, liberal groups met with Senate Democrats.

We know about this meeting because Republican Judiciary Committee staffers improperly gained access to the Democrats’ server and downloaded Dems’ emails and documents. In one purloined email, an aide to Dick Durbin told his boss that liberal activists in the meeting “identified Miguel Estrada (D.C. Circuit) as especially dangerous, because he has a minimal paper trail, he is Latino, and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment.”

"Especially dangerous, because ... he is Latino." As Lithwick put it: grotesque.

If you find it rather dizzying to follow all the allegations and counter-allegations about the Trump team's supposed collusion with Russia and the supposed efforts by the Obama administration to use an investigation of the Trump campaign to spread rumors about that supposed collusion, then this essay by Andrew McCarthy is quite helpful. He lays out in well-reasoned detail his belief now that the FBI and DOJ worked together using the Steele dossier to get a FISA warrant on Trump associate Carter Page. We don't know if they used it or not in their application for the FISA warrant, but there are definite tea leaves to follow and McCarthy's essay does a clear-headed job of laying out what we know from public sources and how that leads him to conclude that the dossier was the basis for the warrant which would necessitate laying out evidence of a crime to get such a warrant on an American citizen. Unless there is quite a bit that is still secret, always a possibility, the dossier was the only evidence they had on Carter Page. And that application would have had, by federal law, to be approved by the attorney general. What are the chances that Loretta Lynch would sign off on a warrant to eavesdrop on an associate of the other party's presidential nominee without informing the president or someone pretty high up on his staff? Just wondering. McCarthy concludes,
In conclusion, while there is a dearth of evidence to date that the Trump campaign colluded in Russia’s cyberespionage attack on the 2016 election, there is abundant evidence that the Obama administration colluded with the Clinton campaign to use the Steele dossier as a vehicle for court-authorized monitoring of the Trump campaign — and to fuel a pre-election media narrative that U.S. intelligence agencies believed Trump was scheming with Russia to lift sanctions if he were elected president. Congress should continue pressing for answers, and President Trump should order the Justice Department and FBI to cooperate rather than — what’s the word? — resist.