…the U.S. government has pursued far fewer violations of a long-standing arms embargo against Iran in the past year compared to recent years, according to a review of court records and interviews with two senior officials involved in sanctions enforcement.
Well, one thinks, perhaps Iran has decided to forsake its wicked ways. But no:
The sharp fall in new prosecutions did not reflect fewer attempts by Iran to break the embargo, the officials said. Rather, uncertainty among prosecutors and agents on how the terms of the deal would affect cases made them reluctant to commit already scarce resources with the same vigor as in previous years, the officials said.
“Uncertainty” seems to be the word of choice, these days. Useful in just about any geopolitical context. Remember how, not so long ago, President Obama was saying:
“Faced with the potential of mass atrocities, and a call from the Libyan people, the United States and our friends and allies stopped Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks … This comes at a time when we see the strength of American leadership across the world. We’ve taken out Al Qaeda leaders, and we’ve put them on the path to defeat. We’re winding down the war in Iraq, and have begun a transition in Afghanistan.”
President Obama said today that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal would cover "40 percent of the global economy." Obama also revealed that eventually the agreement will be made available to the public.
"With this trade agreement, which spans nearly 40 percent of the global economy, we’re going to be able to sell more products, more services, American agriculture, American manufacturing -- we’re going to be able to get those to markets, and American companies that produce here in the United States are not going to be disadvantaged relative to these markets," the president said at the Department of Agriculture today.
"Keep in mind that when there are high barriers in these countries, oftentimes that’s when a lot of American companies feel compelled -- if we want to reach those markets, we’ve got to go produce over there. If the tariffs are down, if the taxes are down on goods made in America, that means U.S. companies that are investing here are able to sell over there without a disadvantage. That’s what American leadership looks like in the 21st century. That’s why this agreement also sets high standards for one of the fastest-growing regions of the world.
"This agreement has the strongest labor standards of any trade agreement in history, including setting fair hours, prohibiting child labor, prohibiting forced labor. It includes the highest environmental standards in history, and prevents overfishing, and makes sure that wildlife trafficking isn’t decimating wildlife that are a world treasure.
"And so unlike past agreements, these standards -- high standards around labor and environment -- are actually enforceable. If countries aren’t abiding by them, then they don’t get the benefits of selling to the United States under the terms of this agreement. And, under this agreement, we, rather than countries like China, are writing the rules for the global economy.
"So I’ve said repeatedly that I would only sign an agreement and present an agreement to Congress if I could be absolutely certain that it was good for American workers and good for American businesses, good for American farmers and good for American ranchers, and good for American manufacturers. We have met that standard in this agreement.
"So this week marks an important step forward, but there’s going to be a long, healthy process of discussion and consultation and debate before this ever comes to an actual vote. And we committed properly that we would post this agreement, every crossed t and dotted i, on a website so that everybody is going to be able to look at it. We are going to be talking not just to members of Congress, but the American public and various constituencies, and governors, and mayors who are represented here about why this is good for their communities.
Today, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that Russia has violated Turkish airspace for a second time. On Saturday, a Russian plane crossed into Turkish airspace near the Syrian border, and in response the Turks scrambled two F-16s. In a subsequent incident, Ankara said that a MiG-29—flown either by Russia or its client Syria—locked its radar on to two more Turkish F-16s Sunday as they patrolled the border.
Russia’s actions against NATO member Turkey, says the Obama administration, are worrisome. "We're very concerned about it,” said John Kerry, “and it is precisely the kind of thing we warned about.” The Russians say it’s a mistake, but that’s nonsense. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is simply telling everyone he’s the new sheriff in town.
The weekend’s stand-off is the latest episode in the international air war over Syria, starring a large cast that includes Turkey, Russia, Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Syrian opposition, and the United States, with an arsenal including drones, fighter jets, barrel bombs, chemical weapons, helicopters, missiles, and perhaps someday—given that there are already 2 nuclear powers and one-soon-to-be nuclear state with a vital interest in the outcome—nuclear weapons.
The relevant prior confrontation occurred in June 2012 when the Syrian army was believed to have brought down a Turkish reconnaissance jet killing both pilots. A Turkish official claimed that the plane was downed not by anti-aircraft fire, as the Syrians said, but rather by a missile fired from a Russian warship off the Syrian coast. In fact, leaked Syrian intelligence documents later showed that the Turkish “jet was shot down in coordination with the Russian naval base in (the Syrian city of) Tartus.” The pilots were captured by Syrian Air Force intelligence and then executed “based on … guidance from the Russian leadership.”
At the time the jet was downed, the White House was eager to contain the damage, and therefore backed the Syrian version of events, perhaps for several likely reasons. First, the Obama administration was eager to show that Syrian anti-air defenses would make it dangerous to set up the no-fly zone that some administration officials and Republican opponents argued for. Second, no one in NATO, and certainly not the Obama administration, had any stomach for joint military action in support of Turkey, especially not if it meant going up against Russia. Finally, the White House wanted to prevent Ankara from taking too strong a position against Assad, so it was happy someone, anyone, bloodied the nose of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
None of these factors have changed over the last three years.
About 48 hours after Pope Francis decamped from America's greatest city, reports started circulating in the press-later confirmed by the Vatican-that the Holy Father had secretly met with Kim Davis, that Kentucky clerk who refused to grant same-sex marriage licenses. Davis, you'll recall, has been (for the last month anyway) History's Greatest Monster.
And not just "met with," but Francis (allegedly) embraced Davis, gave her a rosary, and encouraged her to "stay strong."
At which point the American media-which had spent the last week (not to mention the preceding two years) presenting Francis as the great moral exemplar for humanity, lost its frickin' mind.
I kid. My immediate reaction was that it would be awesome if this was the payoff on the greatest bit of media cat-fishing ever. Imagine the genius of the long con: Francis becomes the Vicar of Christ and immediately starts talking about the evils of capitalism. Then he sets the hook with the secular media elite by pivoting to climate change. He comes to the United States to close the sale by meeting with Obama and praising his climate change policies; going before Congress and calling for an end to the death penalty; and then taking to the U.N. and asking to enlarge the Security Council.
And only then--after the entire media chorus bowed down in worship--did he rip the mask off to show that he's going to be just as tough as God's Rottweiler!
I'd put the odds of this scenario being true at about, roughly, impossible-to-one.
Joe Biden was the source for an August New York Times column that documented the vice president's son's deathbed plea that Biden run for president. Politico reports:
Joe Biden has been making his 2016 deliberations all about his late son since August.
Aug. 1, to be exact — the day renowned Hillary Clinton-critic Maureen Dowd published a column that marked a turning point in the presidential speculation.
According to multiple sources, it was Biden himself who talked to her, painting a tragic portrait of a dying son, Beau’s face partially paralyzed, sitting his father down and trying to make him promise to run for president because "the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”
Ask this question: Who gave Maureen Dowd the details of the conversations between Joe Biden and his sons? The details are, after all, pretty ... detailed: There are direct quotations from Beau, Hunter, and Joe; a sentence capturing the thought process of Joe; a brief description of Beau's physical state. It's great reporting, and it's a story well-told; but we can ask, how did Maureen Dowd know this? Who was willing and able to give her this level of detail?
Surely not a political aide or associate. Surely not a normal family friend. Perhaps there's a very close family friend or two in whom Joe Biden (or Jill, or Hunter) would have confided these conversations—but surely such a friend wouldn't have spoken to Maureen Dowd without Joe Biden's okay.
So Joe Biden may have authorized a friend to speak to Maureen Dowd. Or Joe Biden may have spoken to her himself. Or perhaps Jill or Hunter Biden spoke with her. Who knows the details and circumstances? One can easily imagine, for example, one of the Bidens telling a sympathetic Dowd the story, off-the-record, of their beloved son and brother's last wishes—and then, a few weeks later perhaps, yielding to Dowd's request that she be able to report at least some of what she was told in print.
Let me be clear: I'm not criticizing either the Bidens or Dowd. I'm simply pointing out that when you think about who could be the source of Dowd's extraordinary account—you'd have to be crazy to think Joe Biden isn't awfully serious about running for president.
Biden, who is still considering a run for president, will not attend next week's Democratic primary debate.
The Obama administration deported the fewest number of immigrants in the past 12 months since 2006, according to government figures …
Which also show that:
… deportations of criminal immigrants have dropped to the lowest numbers since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, despite his pledge to focus on finding and deporting criminals living in the country illegally.
This can, no doubt, be traced to the malign influence of the Republicans in Congress. And elsewhere.
It has become common to liken Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders. They’re both “outsiders” who have seemingly bucked the system and have struck a nerve with the base of their respective parties. For Sanders, a self-described social democrat from the most liberal state in the union, his anti-Wall Street, big government message has earned him plenty of huzzahs from the callow voters who want “free” college, while Hollywood celebrities and other well-heeled donors have jumped so far behind the wild-haired man from Vermont (by way of Brooklyn) that he’s currently on pace to match Hillary Clinton’s far more professional and slick campaign. As for Trump, the billionaire’s rakish charm, his unwillingness to apologize for any gaffe or seemingly ugly phrase, and his loud denunciations of illegal immigration have netted him a consistent spot at the top of the GOP’s presidential race. Currently, CNN has Trump holding fast to his “commanding lead.”
So what’s the secret ingredient?
Despite Nate Silver’s breathless protest that we should all “Stop Comparing Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders,” and despite Sanders’s own claim that Trump ‘s rhetoric is “an embarrassment for our country,” the truth is that both men, while representing some of the farthest reaches of the left/right divide, have tapped into a common element. Namely, they appeal to the “Forgotten Man,” that usually white working individual who has always been skeptical of big money and the interventionist spirit begat by Woodrow Wilson. The difference here is between Sanders’s “Forgotten Man,” who is more akin to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era unemployed worker needing a lift up from the New Deal’s alphabet soup, and Trump’s own “Forgotten Man,” who shares an affinity with the William Graham Sumner original: a hard-working middle class individual forced to pay for needlessly burdensome economic policies.
We can call this populism. In order to separate the heart from the guts, it’s best to define our primary concern (populism) before describing the people who follow Sanders and Trump.
One of the least-reported substantial policy victories in recent years was stopping Obamacare’s insurer bailout through last fall’s CRomnibus bill. Now we can attach a price-tag to that victory: $2.5 billion. That’s how much taxpayers would have been funneling to President Obama’s insurance-company allies if the bailout hadn’t been thwarted, according to Obama administration officials. Insurers were hoping for $2.87 billion but, thanks to the anti-bailout legislation, which required Obamacare’s risk-corridor program to operate in a revenue-neutral manner, rather than as a bailout, they will be getting only $362 million—the same amount that other insurers paid in.
But this victory was worth more than just that, for when companies can’t rely on having large chunks of their losses covered by taxpayers, they have to price their products accordingly. Thus, insurers have had to price their Obamacare-compliant policies more honestly, causing premiums to rise and enrollment to slow. All of this has been good for the cause of beating back Obama’s 2,400-page government-takeover of American health care, the repeal and replacement of which should be the primary domestic-policy focus of the 2016 Republican field.
Here’s the quick story of how this important victory over the bailout was achieved. In late 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio drew attention to the bailout in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, thereby putting the issue in play. Shortly thereafter, in early 2014, the Congressional Budget Office claimed that the bailout, or risk-corridor program (to use its official name), would somehow net taxpayers $8 billion—the CBO’s apparent assumption being that Obamacare would be such a thriving success that profitable insurers would pay into the risk-corridor fund en masse, while there would be few unprofitable insurers to pull money out of it. (The risk-corridor program was designed to limit risk as Obamacare got up and running, by having profitable insurers share their bounty with unprofitable ones.)
The newly announced figures— of only $362 million coming in while $2.87 billion would have gone out—suggest that the CBO was off by something on the order of $10.5 billion in its prediction, as its $8 billion surplus would in fact have become a $2.5 billion shortfall if the risk-corridors had been allowed to function like the bailout that Obama wanted them to be. (The CBO’s estimate was for three years, so future shortfalls will likely show its projection to have been off by even more than $10.5 billion.)
Democratic National Committee vice chair Tulsi Gabbard went on MSNBC last night to call for her party to have more presidential primary debates:
"I’ve also been calling for more debates sponsored by the DNC. Right now, as you know, the DNC has only allowed for six sanctioned debates, and an exclusivity clause that says if any candidate participates in another debate, that’s not sanctioned by the DNC, then you're automatically blocked from joining the DNC-sanctioned debates," said Gabbard.
"[M]ore and more people on the ground from states all across the country are calling for more debates, re wanting to have this transparency and this greater engagement in our democratic process, at a critical time, as they make the decision of who should be the next person to lead our country. We’ve got to have more opportunities for people to present their vision for our country, their plans, and to be held accountable for the positions that they're taking and the path they'd like to take our country on.
Hillary Clinton took a swing at President Barack Obama for being too strict on illegal immigrants. Clinton said, in an interview with Telemundo, that she would be less strict if she becomes president of the United States.
"I believe in comprehensive immigration reform. And it would include in my plan a path to citizenship, which I think is absolutely essential. That is the goal. But if we still are f-- working toward it, fighting for it, then I want to do everything in my power not only to continue-- the executive orders that-- President Obama has put forth, D.A.P.A., and D.A.C.A., and the kinds of changes that he has made," Clinton said in response to a question about how much further she'd go on executive action than Obama.
"But I want to do more on an individual basis by putting more resources, more personnel into the system to try to help as many people as possible get a different status. I will not be deporting parents. I will not be breaking up families. I will not be doing what we've seen too much of, which is tryin' to, you know, make immigrants the scapegoat for everything that people are concerned about in the country.
"And the best way to do that is to build on what we have accomplished, keep fightin' for comprehensive immigration reform, and then use the tools that exist for more individual determinations about how to keep more people who are hard working, contributing people in our country while we still-- fight over the comprehensive immigration reform-- plan."
When asked about the legality of her plan, Clinton said, "Well, it has to be legal. There is no doubt about that. And I am a strong supporter of what the president did because it was legal. It was necessary. It was important. And I believe it was rooted in the presidential authority that he relied on. But even within existing immigration law, there are provisions for trying to determine-- who can stay in the country, to try to change the deportation-- rules and regulations.
"That's within existing authority within the executive branch. I'm gonna look for every legal way I can find to make sure that we don't intimidate and terrify hard working immigration families. That they know that they will not have to worry about a knock on the door or a raid on their workplace. Because I just don't think that's the right thing to do."
Mismanaging a baseball team will do it. As James Wagner reports in the Washington Post:
After a tumultuous and disappointing 2015 season, the Washington Nationals have fired Manager Matt Williams with a year remaining on his contract. Expected to repeat as National League East champions and contend for their first World Series title, the Nationals and their team-record $164-million payroll finished with a 83-79 record and failed to reach the playoffs.
The wisecracks (remember that word?) almost write themselves. But the most interesting element of this saga is, perhaps, the efficiency with which Williams was dispatched. No thirty day investigation. No hearings. No reassignment to some other position. He didn’t get it done, even with a bloated budget (this is Washington, after all) so nice knowing you, hope you find work, and watch that doorknob on your way out.
Meanwhile the heads of the Secret Service, the VA, the EPA, and the IRS still have their jobs.
The alarm, of course, is for public transportation advocates who should rightly be worried about a total failure of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, or WMATA. Alas, Freed notes this was predicted by a former WMATA chief a little over a decade ago:
"We're talking about a systemic service meltdown condition as early as three years from now," Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White told his board of directors. "It's reliability falling, ridership loss, road congestion increasing and air quality decreasing. It's a death spiral."
Many residents have responded to Metro’s string of breakdowns and delays by abandoning the system entirely. “Metro means that I have no reliability of getting to work on time,” one former rider told WAMU last week.
You might be thinking "gee, with fewer riders, doesn't a rate hike seem like a counterintuitive way to raise revenue?", or "that's one way to sock it to poor and middle-class riders." But evidently that's just you.
WMATA has to do what it has to do, holding all of its historical incompetence aisde, since local governments in two of the three entities (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) which control it have considered wasting billions of dollars on antiquated streetcar technology. One, the District of Columbia, went through with it. Virginia smartly killed the project.
Yet, unlike in New York, no express lines were created as the city grew immensely. After being blamed for the fatal 2009 crash on the Red Line, meanwhile, the automatic control system that helped trains move smoothly and on-time was taken off-line.
Service grew erratic, and planned improvements for cell-phone service in the tunnels ran into trouble. Track work worsened and delays became commonplace.
The crowning achievement, or the supposed one, was the extension of the system via the new Silver Line to Dulles Airport. This "achievement", only half-done, is over budget and behind schedule.
Arkansas senator Tom Cotton will place a hold on three ambassador nominations until the Obama administration agrees to investigate and discipline officials within the Secret Service over a leak of private personnel information about a sitting congressman.
Cotton plans to deliver a speech from the Senate floor Monday afternoon decrying the Secret Service and its director, Joe Clancy, after several officials accessed the information for Jason Chaffetz, the Republican congressman from Utah and chairman of the House oversight committee, which oversees the Secret Service.
In 2003, before being elected to Congress, Chaffetz applied and was rejected for a job at the agency. Shortly after the beginning of a March 2015 hearing led by Chaffetz and investigating misconduct within the agency, a Secret Service official accessed the Republican's file. Eventually, more than 40 other employees would see the file as it was circulated around the agency, and the contents of it were leaked to the press.
Clancy, a Secret Service veteran who has headed the agency since last October, intially said he did not know about his staff accessing and viewing the Chaffetz file. But the director now says he needs to revise his official account of the leak to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security. Cotton told the Washington Post Monday Clancy's revision shows the administration needs to conduct a full criminal investigation into the leak.
“If he intentionally misled investigators, he has to be fired,” Cotton told the Post. “But even if he didn’t mislead anyone, his conduct is not what we would want or expect from the person in charge of reforming this agency.”
In his address to the Senate, Cotton will argue the executive branch should be held accountable for misdeeds and that the Obama administration should discipline the appropriate officers of the Secret Service. While the Arkansas Republican will say he is only currently objecting to three nominations—the ambassadors to the Bahamas, Sweden, and Norway—Cotton will leave the door open for holding up more nominations.
“When President Obama and Secretary Johnson take appropriate action, I will likewise take action and release these and future objections,” Cotton told the Post.
Chaffetz, who served with Cotton in the House before the latter's election to the Senate in 2014, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD he has spoken to Cotton "a couple of times" about the Secret Service leak but did not elaborate on whether he thought the hold was appropriate.
A four-term congressman, Chaffetz is also running for House speaker in the October 29 election, taking on House majority leader Kevin McCarthy