Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Cruising the Web

I fully applaud Trump pulling us out of the Iran deal. Trump actually had a good speech explaining why he did this.
“The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror,” Trump said. “It exports dangerous missiles, fuels conflicts across the Middle East, and supports terrorist proxies and militias Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda.”

“Over the years Iran and its proxies have bombed American embassies and military installations, murdered hundreds of American service members, and kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured American citizens,” he said. “The Iranian regime has funded its long reign of chaos and terror by plundering the wealth of its own people. No action taken by the regime has been more dangerous than its pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them.”

He proceeded to critique the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a formal name for the nuclear deal the Obama administration brokered.

“The so-called Iran deal was supposed to protect the United States and our allies from the lunacy of an Iranian nuclear bomb and a weapon that will only endanger the survival of the Iranian regime,” he said. “In fact, the deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and over time reached the brink of a nuclear breakout. The deal lifted crippling economic sanctions on our end in exchange for very weak limits on the regime’s nuclear activity and no limits at all on its other maligned behavior, including its sinister activities in Syria, Yemen, and other places all around the world.”

“At the point when the United States had maximum leverage, this disastrous deal gave this regime — and it is a regime of great terror — many billions of dollars and some of it in actual cash,” Trump said. “A great embarrassment to me as a citizen and to all citizens of the United States. A constructive deal could easily have been struck at the time, but it was not.”

“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program,” he said. “Today we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie.”

....“The agreement was so poorly negotiated that even if Iran fully complied, the regime could still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time,” Trump said.
For all the Obama guys freaking out about what a travesty this is, they should face the reality that they brought this on themselves by, first of all, signing on to such an atrocious deal and, secondly, not submitting the treaty to the Senate as such a major agreement should have. Of course, they wouldn't have gotten the required two-thirds of the Senate to approve the thing. That should have told them something. But if it had been ratified in the Senate, it would have been a lot harder for Trump to pull out of. So when some complain that Trump's pulling out will decrease other nation's willingness to make deals with us, perhaps they'll learn to insist that the U.S. submit treaties for ratification. There is a reason why the Founders set up that requirement.

Also, perhaps it would be better to negotiate deals without lying to the media to sell it as Ben Rhodes has bragged about doing. As Charles C.W. Cooke writes,
[T]hose who are worried about the effect this will have on America’s “standing” in the world should be extremely angry with President Obama today. Ben Rhodes, who admitted to lying to credulous journalists in his attempt to get the deal through, is scared that the reversal will be “devastating to U.S. credibility globally.” “Why,” he asks, “would anyone trust an international agreement that the U.S. negotiates?”

The answer to this, traditionally, is “because the deal was ratified by the Senate.”

This deal, however, was not ratified by the Senate. Instead, Rhodes’s boss deliberately bypassed our constitutional structure and struck the agreement unilaterally, the operating theory being that if the president called it something other than a “treaty” then it would become something other than a treaty. Which, of course, it . . . did. In my view, circumventing the Senate in this way was a gross violation of the American system of government and a disgraceful exercise in linguistic gamesmanship. But one doesn’t have to agree with that to accept that, because Obama took this approach, he ended up with a non-treaty. And non-treaties lack the imprimatur and broad-based acceptance that treaties, by design, tend to enjoy. If the president wanted his arrangement to be more permanent, he should have gone to the Senate. And if he didn’t go precisely because he knew the Senate would say no, then he knew all along he was building on sand. Whose fault is that, pray? His successor’s?

A related talking point holds that by “unilaterally” leaving the agreement, President Trump has acted as arrogantly as did President Obama. This, too, is nonsense. Our system would be ludicrous if it permitted President A to put in place deals on his own, but required President B to gain the acquiescence of Congress in order to withdraw from those deals. Obama set this deal up on a discretionary basis. It can, quite obviously, be nixed on the same terms. Indeed, there is far more justification for reversing unilateral actions unilaterally than there is for taking them in the first place. To equate a president unilaterally nuking a constitutionally questionable unilateral decision with a president taking a constitutionally questionable unilateral decision is akin to equating the man who returns a stolen car with the man who stole it in the first place. I am as staunch a critic of the imperial presidency as you’ll find. I am, at root, a legislative supremacist. But we will not get very far in that aim if presidents giving up stolen power is itself held to be an arrogation.


Seattle is finding out that having Amazon HQ there is not an unalloyed positive. Basically, Amazon is blackmailing the city over a proposal Seattle has to tax large employers such as Amazon in order to gain money to finance low-income housing. But the online giant is holding off its investments in the city as leverage to block the proposed tax.
The company that’s conquered the world of online retail is taking on its hometown City Hall, with Amazon delivering an unprecedented public threat Wednesday against a proposal for a new tax on large employers in Seattle.

The retail giant has paused construction planning on a new downtown Seattle tower until the City Council votes on the tax to fund homelessness programs, a spokesman said.


Amazon also may sub-lease rather than occupy space in a skyscraper under construction downtown, said the spokesman, Drew Herdener.

The questioning of two high-profile ventures by the city’s largest employer is a bold political jab of the kind Amazon has never made in Seattle before and could lend weight to an effort by big businesses to kill the proposed tax.

The company helmed by Jeff Bezos has planned to fill its 17-story “Block 18” tower and the skyscraper being built at Rainier Square with an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 workers.

Mayor Jenny Durkan vowed to seek common ground, while council members pushing the measure gave no indication they intend to back down. Councilmember Kshama Sawant accused Amazon of attempting “blackmail.”

....Amazon’s threat to pull back on its Seattle plans comes as the company is already branching out, said James Young, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington.

“The fact that they have HQ2 already in process tells me that it’s a real option,” Young said, describing the company’s headquarters announcement in September as a warning shot for Seattle with the message, “Look, we can go elsewhere.”
Doesn't JEff Bezos care about helping the homeless? Or is he just willing to do so if it involves other people's money?

The proposed tax would be about $500 per employee for large companies to fund low-income housing and emergency services for homeless people. It's estimated that this could cost Amazon approximately $20 million a year and perhaps double if their number of employees in Seattle grows. Seattle might find that you get less of something if you tax it - in this case, fewer employees. The problem is that housing prices are unreal in Seattle.
Since Amazon opened its South Lake Union headquarters in 2010, Seattle housing costs have grown at among the fastest rates in the nation.

The median cost of a single-family house in Seattle has jumped 110 percent to $820,000, while rents have increased 64 percent, with the typical two-bedroom now costing more than $2,000.
No wonder that homelessness is such a problem there. The irony is that the city's economy is booming...for some people. Unfortunately, others are reduced to living in tent cities. The city now has set up permanent encampments for the homeless, but the numbers keep increasing as a mix of those with mental health problems and addictions are joined by families who have no place to stay. All this in the midst of plenty.
The inexorable rise in Seattle's homeless population has coincided, seemingly paradoxically, with an extraordinary economic boom in this city....The numbers back up what is apparent on the ground: According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a government agency, of the top 15 metro areas in the country, Seattle's GDP grew third-fastest in 2016, behind only Silicon Valley and Austin.

With great prosperity have come great rent increases, however. As of February, the average monthly tab for a one-bedroom apartment within a 10-mile radius of central Seattle is above $2,100, according to Rent Jungle, which monitors real estate trends. The growth rate in rents has been among the nation's highest for years.

A fascinating study commissioned by Zillow Research adds further ballast to what might seem at first like simpleminded Marxian analysis: higher rents, more homelessness. "The relationship between rising rents and increased homelessness is particularly strong in four metros currently experiencing a crisis in homelessness—Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle," authors Chris Glynn and Melissa Allison found.

The scholars "investigated the relationship between increases in the Zillow Rent Index and increases in the homeless population" to come to their conclusion. They determined, among other findings, that "in Washington, D.C.,... a 5 percent average rent increase in 2016 would have translated to 224 additional people experiencing homelessness, for a total of 8,722. In Seattle, that increase would add 258 people to the homeless population for a total of 12,498." Cities such as Washington and San Francisco have strict limits on building heights and, like Seattle, are home to energetic NIMBY movements and restrictive zoning codes—all of which make it difficult to add to the housing supply.

Elizabeth Bowen, a professor at the University of Buffalo School of Social Work and a leading authority on homelessness, agrees with Zillow's analysis and adds a second component: It's not just rising rents; it's also the question of wage growth. Bowen tells me that in cities like Seattle, "housing costs are far outpacing wage [rises]." Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, concurs. "With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets," he said in a press release last year.
With an increase in people on disability as well as addictions and mental health problems, a city with such growth along with regulations limiting building is going to result in a problem.
What does seem clear is that Seattle, a quintessential 21st-century boomtown, offers a stark warning about what our society could look like as it is increasingly dominated by the economy. It also shows what happens when social support organizations and local governments decide not to try to end homelessness, but rather attempt sympathetically to "contain" it. Ultimately, Daniel Malone says, we need to decide whether we're okay "living in this third-world society where there's a whole lot of affluence, and there's a lot of visible, Mumbai-like slums right in our midst."
Barack Obama is seeing his legacy eroded precisely because of the way he chose to govern. Matthew Continetti also reminds us that Obama dug this hole.
The worldview Trump opposes privileges therapy and dialogue over realism and hard decisions. It imagines that the Iranian theocracy is a reliable or trustworthy hedge against Sunni power and will liberalize gradually as the arc of justice progresses. These are the ideas that motivated the presidency of Barack Obama. The Iran deal was the signature achievement of Obama's second term, and it is now gone. In truth, though, Obama's legacy was disappearing long before Trump made his announcement. Obama's legacy, like much of his self-presentation, was a mirage, a pleasing and attractive image that, upon closer inspection, loses coherence.

Because he governed so extensively through executive order and administrative fiat, because he was so contemptuous of criticism and had a "my way or the highway" approach to negotiations with Republicans (though not with Iranians), the longevity of Obama's agenda depended heavily on his party winning a third consecutive term in the White House. As Tom Cotton warned the Iranians years ago, an agreement entered into by a president and not submitted to the Senate as a treaty can be abrogated by the next man who holds the office. Hillary Clinton's failure doomed the Iran deal and the reputations it had established. It was Barack Obama and John Kerry who allowed Donald Trump to exit the deal by rejecting longstanding procedure. Perhaps it was knowledge of this fact that inspired Kerry in his desperate attempt to preserve the agreement.

Trump has spent much of his time in office reversing Obama policies that were made outside of, or in opposition to, America's constitutional framework. He has had the hardest time repealing Obamacare, for the very reason that the Affordable Care Act was passed by the Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. That is a lesson for any president: To have a long-lasting influence on American life, work within the system bequeathed to us by the Founders.
Continetti also theorizes that other Republicans, if they had been the one to win in 2016 would not have withdrawn from the deal as Trump did. They would have given in to the pressure from the bien pensants who are now so angry about today's decision.
It took a small boy to say the emperor had no clothes. And it took Donald Trump to say that Barack Obama's foreign policy legacy was a superficial and dangerous mirage.
Perhaps those Obama officials who are criticizing Trump today can answer questions about the people who have died as a result of the money that the deal gave to Iran and has been used to support Bashar al-Assad in Syria and other terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Taliban. They should have to answer for the victims who died as a result of giving Iran pallets of cash that they channeled into funding terrorism. And the only result that the deal's supporters can brag about is a pause in Iran's nuclear programs. There is no real verification of what Iran is actually doing. Even if they are holding off development, the deal is structured to allow them to simply wait, while garnering more money, and then restarting their nuclear program several years down the road. They can also keep working on their missile program. Obama and the Europeans would prefer to embrace the fantasy rather address the issues realistically.


Richard Epstein writes more about how Seattle has created some of its own problems regarding homelessness with its short-sighted do-gooderism policies.
he progressive leadership within the City Council has introduced or adopted a number of measures to address this issue that are sure to backfire. The first is a special head tax on employment; the second is an ordinance that forbids landlords from inquiring into the criminal records of prospective tenants; and the third is a steep increase in the city’s minimum wage. But the real problem is that sixty-nine percent of Seattle is zoned only for single-family homes, which means there is a sharp division between where wealthy elites live and where lower-income and less-educated people are congregated. The progressive city council has maintained these barriers, with profound social consequences.
The progressive City Council members feel that wealthy, large companies should pay to help the homeless as if they were the ones that caused the problem in the first place.
But this heartfelt sentiment should not carry the day. Amazon already pays its fair share of real estate and other taxes to the city. Most of its billions in profits are not generated in Seattle, but by its huge national and global footprint. It would hardly do for every locality to replicate the Seattle tax. Nor should they try. The correct form of redistributive taxes is on general revenues, whether on property or on income. The voters who want to impose the tax on others should be prepared to impose it on themselves. Picking on one group of successful firms will likely reduce their presence or even drive them out of town, as with Amazon. And it will surely deter other successful firms from coming in.
But such progressives rarely see the long-term implications of their policies that are supposed to help those less unfortunate, but often merely make the problem worse.
Likewise, O’Brien is cagey about who has “forced” the homeless onto the street. It is hard to pin this on Amazon, which has brought enormous wealth to Seattle; and he overlooks destructive city policies that contribute to the problem of homelessness, most notably those relating to single-family zoning, which crimps the construction of new affordable housing units. No city should cripple or kill its strong horses. Instead it should expand its tax base through private development that could cater these underserviced communities.
The city has also made it illegal for landlords to ask potential tenants about criminal backgrounds. The concern is that asking such a standard question has a disparate impact on minority groups. But what about the rest of the tenants?
Like so many misguided disparate impact claims, this one fails to explain why criminal records are not relevant to landlords, given the greater risk that such tenants could pose to other tenants. Nor is there any allegation that these tests were administered in a way calculated to single out black persons with criminal records, but not white persons. Nonetheless Councilmember Lisa Herbold insisted that “Blocking formerly incarcerated people from accessing stable housing is an extrajudicial punishment not consistent with the rule of law." But no refusal to deal ever counts as punishment, for if it did, then no one anywhere could ever inquire about criminal records, even, say, at schools or day-care centers. Nor does this age-old practice offend the rule of law, which requires sufficient notice and fair application of known legal rules but in no way mandates antidiscrimination ordinances in competitive markets.

But armed with these flimsy rationales, the Seattle ordinance puts into place an expensive civil rights enforcement mechanism, and it offers, of course, no compensation for landlords whose property values decline because other tenants choose to leave or insist on paying lower rents in light of their perceived higher risk. Likewise, the ordinance offers no defense to a landlord who might be sued by any person on the premises who is assaulted or injured by tenants on whom they are not allowed to do background checks. Indeed, a negative consequence of the ordinance is that it makes it all the harder for blacks without criminal records to obtain rental housing. And through it all, the ordinance does not add one single unit of new housing to the market. Indeed, it is more likely that the change will reduce the available stock of rental housing by increasing the costs of doing business—at least, ironically, if the high rents ($2,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment) don’t make this entire issue go away.
Add into the mix, Seattle's extreme $15 an hour minimum wage law. As any economist could have told the city leaders, such a law will hurt most those at the bottom of the labor pool.
All employers adapt to minimum wage laws. They fire workers; they reduce hours; they invest in more capital equipment run by higher wage workers; they even leave town in frustration. A recent study by economists at the University of Washington concludes that these effects more than offset the nominal increase in wages, such that the “average low-wage work in the city lost $125 per month” because of the increase. That works out to a loss of $1,500 per year for the average low-income worker, which could easily reach 10 percent of their previous wages.
So before penalizing big companies for being big, perhaps the leaders on the City Council could look in their own mirrors. But that would involve a level of self-knowledge and economic understanding that eludes such progressives.
So a common thread links all three of these misadventures. Preexisting regulation creates all sorts of market distortions for housing and labor. A sensible City Council removes the imperfections. A Progressive City Council doubles down on failed policies, and only makes matters worse. Sadly, even Seattle cannot repeal the law of unintended consequences.



Jazz Shaw points
to another story of how liberal policies are driving up housing costs for ordinary people.
Thinking of building or purchasing a newly constructed home in California? Even assuming you can somehow afford to own one in one of the most brutal real estate markets in the country, get ready for the cost to go up further. The state government is preparing to pass a new law which will mandate that every new house, condo or other building up to three stories high must have solar panels installed and comply with a “net-zero energy” profile. (This means that they have to produce enough of their own solar power to offset all electricity off the grid and natural gas consumed over the course of a year.)

Even more remarkably, they want everyone to be in compliance in under two years. What this will do to the California real estate market, particularly for aspiring, low-income homeowners remains a mystery....

Some people clearly like the idea of generating their own power from solar energy, assuming they can afford the upfront costs. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. If you live in a very sunny area you might be able to make your home largely self-sufficient. But that’s a choice for the individual buyer to make and the free market to react to accordingly. When the state steps in and mandates it for virtually every new home, somebody is about to make a lot of money. One representative of the California Solar and Storage Association (a solar energy lobbyist group) is quoted as complaining that the new rules still don’t go far enough.

So if you live in California and are looking to buy a newly constructed home, what does this mean to you? Even state representatives admit that the solar panels and other “net-zero” requirements will increase the construction costs of a single family home by $25,000 to $30,000. They insist that the solar energy can actually produce a net savings for the homeowner, but it will be at least a decade before most people reach the break-even point. The additional costs include more insulation, more efficient windows and other thermal containment features.

Officials are saying there are exceptions built into the mandate, but will they be enough? Not everyone lives in an area that gets sun for nearly the entire year. Some are in the shade of canyons and other natural structures, while others may be dwarfed by surrounding buildings. They’re never going to reach that net-zero goal. It also means that pretty much everyone will need to go to electric heating instead of other, environmentally friendly options like natural gas. Not everyone likes electric heat, particularly if it means you have to run a humidifier all the time.

This all adds up to yet more expensive government mandates which are going to make a handful of people very, very wealthy. Will the last person to leave California please turn off the lights? (Assuming, of course, you still have enough power to keep your lights on.)


If we needed another reason to be furious with the Russians, here it is.
Army wife Angela Ricketts was soaking in a bubble bath in her Colorado home, leafing through a memoir, when a message appeared on her iPhone:

“Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” the Facebook message continued, claiming that the hackers operating under the flag of Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer and her phone. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

Ricketts was one of five military wives who received death threats from the self-styled CyberCaliphate on the morning of Feb. 10, 2015. The warnings led to days of anguished media coverage of Islamic State militants’ online reach.

Except it wasn’t IS.

The Associated Press has found evidence that the women were targeted not by jihadists but by the same Russian hacking group that intervened in the American election and exposed the emails of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta.

The false flag is a case study in the difficulty of assigning blame in a world where hackers routinely borrow one another’s identities to throw investigators off track. The operation also parallels the online disinformation campaign by Russian trolls in the months leading up to the U.S. election in 2016.

Links between CyberCaliphate and the Russian hackers — typically nicknamed Fancy Bear or APT28 — have been documented previously. On both sides of the Atlantic, the consensus is that the two groups are closely related.

But that consensus never filtered through to the women involved, many of whom were convinced they had been targeted by Islamic State sympathizers right up until the AP contacted them.
Why did it take the Associated Press to let these spouses know that it was Russian hackers, not IS that was targeting them? I'd like to know what we're doing about such hacking . I don't have confidence that silence means that the government is on top of things.


Well, for once the Republicans dodged the bullet of nominating a hideous candidate by rejecting Don Blankenship. Who knows if the winner in the primary, Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia's attorney general who has racked up a conservative record in the state can defeat Joe Manchin, but it was clear that Blankenship, a man convicted of violating mine safety regulations as well as a bigot, could not. Good riddance. Maybe he can hide out with Roy Moore somewhere. "Cocaine Mitch" is laughing. Well, done.

I hadn't realized that the photoshop of that picture is from the Netflix show "Narcos."