The New York Times reports on the crisis: "As of Monday, there have been about 17 times as many refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea from January to April compared to the same period last year, according to initial estimates from the International Organization for Migration. The increase in crossings has mainly occurred on Mediterranean Sea routes to Italy, though there have been other crossings along the northern African coast. The number of crossings is expected to remain high this year. In the first 17 days of April, 11,000 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea."
De Blasio's foreign policy comments come a week after he refused to endorse his old boss, Hillary Clinton, in the presidential race.
Clinton has yet to weigh in on the refugee deaths.
The original corn laws put tariffs on imported grain in an effort to help domestic producers. That was nearly two centuries ago, in England, and the experiment is taught as an example of bad economic policy. But people never learn and in this country, today, we have the renewable fuel mandates which have been a boon to corn farmers in Iowa (among other states) where presidential candidates are obliged to speak in favor of a policy that is a drag just about everywhere else in the country. The ill effects include higher gas prices, poor engine performance in automobiles, and damage to smaller engines found in chain saws, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers.
In a report published Thursday, Harvard University professor Jim Stock, who served on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers in 2013 and 2014, proposes several reforms to the biofuels mandate, known as the renewable fuel standard, including some requiring congressional approval.
Just as policy, how bad is the current scheme?
Under the law, which was expanded in 2007, the standards require refineries to blend an increasingly large amount of biofuels into gasoline to reach 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. No more than 15 billion gallons of that total can come from corn, which today is within one billion gallons of that limit.
The additional 21 billion gallons by 2022 are supposed to come from advanced biofuels made from non-corn products, but that sector is falling far short of producing what Congress had envisioned. The industry produced 1.9 billion gallons of fuel in 2014, with 1.7 billion gallons coming from biodiesel and 180 million gallons from other alternative fuels—far less than the 3.75 billion gallons the 2007 law had initially required for the year.
The EPA is almost two years behind issuing the requirements for 2014 and at least six months late with the 2015 requirements, partly a recognition that the biofuels market has not performed as the law assumed. Bound by a legal agreement announced last week, the agency is planning to propose the levels for 2014-2016 by June 1.
Nevertheless, this is a muddled and faulty document, which will be interpreted correctly by Kosovar Albanians as reflecting official American attitudes to the challenge of the so-called “Islamic State” or ISIS, and a microcosm of a broader Western failure to address clearly the activities of ISIS and other terrorists in the region.
The report comprises 107 pages of analysis, statistics, and diagrams. Such a quantity of data should encompass much that is useful. Unfortunately, while some important problems of Islam in Kosovo are disclosed, they are obscured by an avalanche of often-contradictory argumentation.
An 11-page executive summary titled “Key Findings” begins with what would seem an alarming statement: “Kosovo has 125 foreign fighters . . . for every 1 million citizens, making it the highest ranking country among 22 listed [Western] countries, followed by Bosnia with 85, Belgium with 42, and Albania with 30 cases of foreign fighters . . . for every 1 million citizens.”
Yet this is followed immediately by an alternative, contradictory observation: “In terms of the number of foreign fighters [as a proportion of] their Muslim population, Kosovo is in the bottom half of the list of countries, ranked 14th among 22 countries with the highest number of foreign fighters.”
The report does, nevertheless, offer an obvious presumption: “given that it is mostly the Muslim population of each of the respective countries that holds the desire to join the Middle Eastern conflicts on religious grounds, compared to their respective non-Muslim populations, it is necessary to look at the number of foreign fighters per capita of their respective Muslim populations. It becomes clear that it is the Muslim population of the non-Muslim majority countries that are mostly affected by the phenomenon of foreign fighters.” No surprise there.
Since Kosovo is a majority-Muslim country, its relatively large complement of fighters for a country of only 1.8 million people shouldn’t be a surprise, either. But the report does not say clearly which of the baffling sets of numbers it offers are significant, although the text, after some paragraphs of convoluted remarks on these figures, avers that “violent extremist ideas in Kosovo are embraced by only a small group of people when compared to the overall population size.”
Today, writing in his weekly "Kristol Clear" newsletter, the boss sent around an updated straw poll to gauge who readers think, at this point, should be the 2016 GOP nominee.
It's been about two months since our last GOP presidential poll. Since then, several candidates have officially announced (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio), and almost all the other likely candidates have been very visible. So, inquiring minds are asking: Where do Kristol Clear readers stand now? You can answer. Here's an updated list of Republicans who've expressed some interest in running for the presidency. Choose your top three from among these candidates, or write in someone else whom you prefer. If your state primary weretomorrow, who would you vote for? And who would be your second and third choices?
As popular as the last poll was with readers of the newsletter, we wanted to give readers of the blog a chance to vote for their top three picks, which you can do below. And if you don't already get Bill's newsletter, subscribe for free!
Hezbollah Brigades has begun to release videos of its fighters operating in the western city, which has been contested for the past year. The Islamic State stepped up its offensive in Ramadi earlier this week.
The Hezbollah brigades have benefitted from:
… US air support during the Iraqi government and militia offensives in Amerli, Jurf al Sakhar, and most recently in Tikrit. These militias committed war crimes in Amerli after ejecting the Islamic State, according to Human Rights Watch, and are accused of doing the same in Tikrit.
Despite the US air support, Hezbollah Brigades routinely publicizes its attacks on US forces during the occupation of Iraq from 2006 until the end of 2011.
On the front page of Hezbollah Brigade’s official website, the group promotes a section that publicizes videos of attacks on US forces. One video, from 2007, shows US troops being ambushed in an IED attack in Baghdad. Also, an article on the front page claims that the group captured a Kuwaiti CIA agent who was “spying” on Hezbollah Brigades.
Spokeswoman Karen Finney claimed today on MSNBC that Hillary Clinton did not flip-flop on the issue of same-sex marriage.
"I do want to talk about the timing of the same-sex marriage change of heart. Next time," said the MSNBC host.
"No change of heart," Finney declared. "Was asked a different question than she had been asked before."
Finney laughed. And the MSNBC host complimented the Clinton spokeswoman on her spin.
But in fact her position has changed. As CNN recently reported, "she said last year that same-sex marriage should be a state-by-state fight. Her campaign said she now believes gay marriage should be a constitutional right for everyone. She did not explain when or why her view changed, relying instead on a brief statement from her campaign to outline her new position."
Clinton has taken no substantive questions from the press since jumping in the race over a week ago.
Nashua, N.H. A wave of discomfort moved through the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza hotel when Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator running for president, proclaimed, “The terrorist could be you.”
The older, conservative crowd at the New Hampshire GOP’s Republican Leadership Summit on Saturday didn’t seem to know what to think at first. Paul wasn’t suggesting Patty from Portsmouth actually is a terrorist. The Kentucky Republican’s point was that the federal government’s disregard for rule of law and the right to a speedy trial for those accused of terrorism is a slippery slope. The feds are targeting Americans with names like Mohammed right now, Paul was implying, but what if the government decided a gun-owner from rural New Hampshire, say, was dangerous to the nation?
Civil libertarianism is a big part of Paul’s pitch, and he’s taking on not just theoretical threats from the federal government but arguments from hawkish members of his own party. On the issue of detention without trial for those Americans suspected of conspiring to commit acts of terror with foreign groups, Paul has laid down a marker on the side of a strict interpretation of the Fifth Amendment. “I think we need to be the party that defends the entire Bill of Rights,” he said in Nashua.
Without mentioning his name, Paul took on fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who may be running for president and who spoke to the conference just a few minutes after Paul. Paul and Graham were on opposing sides during a 2011 Senate debate on indefinite detention of American citizens accused of terrorism. Graham's argument was that these Americans ought to be classified as unlawful enemy combatants, and that the rules of war apply so long as Congress has authorized military action. Enemy combatants can be detained for as long as hostilities continue or when Congress otherwise says so, goes the thinking. "And when they say, 'I want my lawyer,' you tell them 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer. You're an enemy combatant,'" Graham had said during the floor debate.
But Paul didn't see it that way.
“One of them said, ‘When they ask for a lawyer, you just tell them to shut up.’ Really? That’s the kind of discourse we’re going to have in our country? Tell them to shut up?” Paul said. “You would send an American citizen to Guantanamo Bay without a lawyer, without a trial? He said, ‘Yeah, if they’re dangerous.’”
Paul cracked a smile as he launched into full libertarian lecture mode.
“It sort of begs the question, doesn’t it? Who gets to decide who’s dangerous and who’s not dangerous?” he said, pacing back and forth across the stage in blue jeans and without a jacket. “Has there been a time in our history when we decided who was dangerous based on the color of your skin? Has there been a time in our history when we decided someone was dangerous because of different beliefs, didn’t look like us, or had a different religion? Are we going to give up on our right to trial so easily?”
The president is taking Air Force One to Florida this week. He is going there, unsurprisingly, to make a speech. On Earth Day, about climate change. He could make the speech in Washington, of course, but he needs a prop—in this case, will be the Everglades, which he describes as “one of the most special places in our country. But it’s also one of the most fragile.”
Climate change, President Obama will say, threatens the Everglades as, “Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure — and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry — at risk.”
Maybe so. But if he wants to raise the alarm and do something – and do it soon – about climate change, then there might be better props and more immediate actions he could undertake. The president could fly out to Las Vegas – Harry Reid’s home turf – and give a speech in front of the impressive, but empty, nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, where he could make the case for quickly building more nuclear power plants.
Nuclear plants generate reliable electricity. They do not care whether the wind blows or the sun shines. And they do not emit greenhouse gases. But they also produce nuclear waste and that is a problem for the people who live near those plants and also a security risk. So Yucca was designed and built, at great expense, as a solution to this problem. It is a vast underground storage area, blasted and drilled out of solid rock. But it is empty and has been since it was completed many months back. Harry Reid’s constituents don’t want spent nuclear fuel moved into their “backyard,” and he has, until now, been powerful enough to keep them happy and Yucca empty.
President Obama could probably change that with a forceful speech about how we owe it to our children to leave them with both reliable sources of energy and a clean planet. That human ingenuity has made it possible to do this by using the power of the atom and safely storing the waste. That, in fact, human ingenuity may one day find a way to make this waste into fuel suitable for generating electricity. And so on.
Initiatives of this sort, however, are not in the spirit of Earth Day. Too practical. Insufficiently idealistic; not to say, messianic. The Earth Day enterprise came about, 45 years ago, at a time when apocalyptic environmentalism was in the air, with people like Paul Ehrlich telling us we had two or three decades, at most, to shape up or lose the planet. Virtually all that Ehrlich predicted has not come to pass. But we still have Earth Day even though the apocalyptic agent is no longer world-wide famine or, as Newsweek predicted back then, a new ice age. The new threat is, of course, climate change.
So the president will use the Everglades as a prop to illustrate what we stand to lose if we don’t take action. It is an odd choice.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a possible Republican presidential candidate, mocked Jeb Bush for being close to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"The party is shopping for somebody who can beat Hillary Clinton," a Bloomberg reporter asked this morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "You and Hillary Clinton, I believe it's fair to say, are close personal friends. How can the party trust you to ferociously take her on and make you their nominee if you're close friends with her?"
"Well, that would disqualify Jeb because apparently Bill is like his illegitimate brother," Graham said.
The U.S. State Department is looking to design and facilitate a media ethics course for journalists in India, and has even proposed appropriating the name of Robin Thicke's 2013 hit "Blurred Lines" as a title for the course. The U.S. consulate general in Hyderabad, India is looking for a non-profit to co-develop the course to help Indian journalists gain a "baseline understanding of the international industry standards," including "accuracy, honesty, transparency, impartiality, and accountability," and is willing to spend $20,000 - $25,000 on it.
The grant documents note that credibility is a key part of journalists' jobs to "keep their readership informed, hold us all accountable, filter fact from fiction, and unmask false narratives masquerading as truth." To that end, the State Department would like a full-time faculty member to propose curriculum content and develop a syllabus tailored to communicate journalistic standards to an Indian university audience. Additionally, the grant calls for a "U.S.-based, university-level journalism professor," suggested by the non-profit subject to approval by the State Department, to act as consultant in the development of the course.
Once the course preparation is complete, the journalism professor will visit India at least three times: to meet with the coordinating university in India and "observe existing on-the-job training in various media houses," to conduct a three day seminar for other stakeholders, and to participate in first offering of the newly-designed course. The grant specifies that both the accommodations for the professor and the venue for the seminar must be a four-star hotel.
The Indian universities of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha are singled as as participants in this project, but once developed, the State Department plans to make the material available for potential use by other diplomatic offices around India in coordination with other Indian universities around the country.
The grant announcement for "Blurred Lines" comes a month after Robin Thicke and co-songwriter Pharrell Williams were found by a court to have been guilty of their own ethical lapses in the writing of the song of the same name. The two have been ordered to pay over $7 million to Marvin Gaye's estate over plagiarism of Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up."
Nashua, N.H. Here are three propositions about the 2016 presidential race after a weekend in which 18 Republican candidates spoke to a crowd of party activists in New Hampshire and Hillary Clinton returned home after treading water and avoiding the press in Iowa.
One, the Republican field of candidates (and potential candidates) is far superior to the field of Republican candidates four years ago.
Two, the GOP candidates are fresher, livelier, and less touched by scandal than the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.
And three, the Republicans have more credible rationales for seeking the presidency than does Clinton.
Encouraging as these sound, they don’t guarantee Republicans success. My one political rule: The future in politics is never a straight line projection of the present. Events intervene. The first televised debate among Republicans is four months away. The first contest, the Iowa caucuses, is nine months away. The New Hampshire primary is a week later.
That Republicans are better off than they were in the last presidential cycle is indisputable. Remember businessman Herman Cain and Representative Michele Bachmann? They were prominent candidates in the 2012 race. Each led the Republican field in at least one national poll.
This time, 10 current or former governors and four U.S. senators are in the mix. When Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination last week, the Economist wrote, “The Republican presidential field grows more crowded and more impressive.”
In his new book 2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America, GOP pollster Whit Ayres provides a “checklist” for candidates. Among the items: a candidate must be optimistic, have held a major office, have an agenda that deals with the economic anxieties of middle class voters, can unite the factions of the Republican coalition, and appeals to minorities, blue-collar white voters, and young people. A Republican who meets most of these criteria, “stands a very good chance of being competitive against the Democratic nominee,” Ayres writes. A dozen or so Republicans qualify.
Best of all for Republicans, they won’t have to run against President Obama again. Clinton lacks Obama’s appeal as a candidate. At the moment, she is bent on keeping a strong rival out of the Democratic race. This is why her advisers boast of raising $2.5 billion for her campaign, a figure designed to scare challengers from running.
She is also tangled up in the three scandals: Benghazi, her deleted emails, and the matter of donations to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments while she was secretary of state. No Republican candidate is beset by anything like this.
One upshot is that Clinton keeps the media at bay so she won’t face questions about the scandals. Republican candidates, in contrast, were bombarded with questions from party activists and reporters at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit here.
He’d been speaking for a little more than ten minutes, telling stories about his battles in Wisconsin to a crowd of Republicans nodding their heads in enthusiastic agreement. Then, in the middle of an extended passage on the United States’ role in the world, Walker invoked “what makes us arguably the greatest nation in history.”
Arguably? At a Republican gathering in the Obama era?
He didn’t pause and no one seemed to notice. After more than two-dozen speeches here over a long weekend that served as the unofficial start of the New Hampshire primary process, the audience probably assumed that Walker had given the nod to American greatness without any qualifier, as had virtually every other speaker.
It was the only hiccup in a very strong speech. Walker guided the crowd through a brief history of his tenure as Wisconsin governor, punctuating the story with suggestions about what his reforms in back home might mean if he were to attempt something similar as president. “Washington is 68 square miles surrounded by reality,” he said, adapting a popular conservative appraisal of Madison.
Walker expanded the stump speech he had given in Iowa back in January, a coming out party of sorts, that propelled him to co-frontrunner status in national and early-state polling. The new content made clear that Walker is a hawk and that in a Walker presidency the United States would not only reengage with the world but would project its power without reservation. He called the war on radical Islam and “generational” war and scorched Barack Obama for his ambivalence on the threat. “We’re going to bring the fight to them and fight on their soil and not ours."
Walker’s speaking style may lack the romance and inspiration of a Marco Rubio speech or the fire and intensity of a Ted Cruz, but he was both engaging and energetic. The last quality was especially notable because Walker showed no signs of fatigue from his travel over the previous 36 hours. He had returned to Madison from a trade mission in Europe on an overnight flight that arrived early Saturday morning and he then flew from Wisconsin to New Hampshire that morning.
“I was very impressed,” says Barbara Dunnington, from Dover, New Hampshire who, despite having lived in the state since 1972, was attending her first political event. “He stated his case very well and he has some great ideas. I like what he’s done in Wisconsin and I like that he was able to turn his state around economically and I really like the idea that he’s interested in reducing the burden of taxes on us.”
Another Republican activist has seen Walker speak three times in recent years and said the speech Saturday was easily his best effort.
The audience for Walker’s speech was smaller than the crowds that had listened to the other prospective candidates over the weekend. That wasn’t for lack of interest or enthusiasm, but because the hotel, the Crowne Plaza Nashua, had booked the large ballroom for a wedding. In an only-in-New-Hampshire (or Iowa) moment, Walker’s team learned that the bride, a fan of their boss, wanted to meet him. So Walker stopped by briefly and posed for a picture with the newly married couple.