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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Battle Stirs Over Confederate Flag and from the Cracker Squire Archives

The first article is from today's Wall Street Journal.  Below that is from the Cracker Squire Archives, a 10/14/2013 post entitled "Part I of II - From the Cracker Squires Archives: Tom Watson news reminds me of these posts: Cameron McWhirter pens a keeper and reminds me of one from the Cracker Squire Archives and that as of late (and yes, probably more to come) our heritage and history have gotten knocked a bit too much for my liking."

Today's WSJ article:

A conceptual-art project that includes plans to burn and bury Confederate flags in 13 mostly Southern states on Memorial Day has drawn the ire of groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans that consider the events disrespectful and divisive.

The planned flag burnings and burials also raised concern that such a public and symbolic act would fall short of the artist’s stated goal to simply retire the flag as a “symbol of terror” and would instead serve to aggravate tensions.

The controversy is the latest in a long string of flare-ups over the flag and highlights how fraught a symbol it remains 150 years after the Civil War ended. While some denounce the flag as an emblem of racism and oppression, others revere it as a representation of the South’s cultural heritage.

John Sims, a 47-year-old conceptual artist in Sarasota, Fla., who is organizing the Memorial Day events, said he hoped to prod people “to reflect upon and critique the complex nature of the Confederate flag as a lasting symbol of terror.” He said he planned to stage funerals for the flag in the 11 states that formed the Confederacy, along with Kentucky and Missouri.

The events, in cities including Nashville, New Orleans and Clarkston, Ga., will involve poetry readings and musical performances as well.

Police department spokespersons in Orlando and Nashville said they weren’t aware of any security concerns tied to the events.

Some groups that cherish the Confederate flag reacted angrily to news of Mr. Sims’s project. “This is not only terribly offensive, but astonishingly idiotic,” said Ben Jones, a former Democratic congressman from Georgia and spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “This sort of thing merely inflames old divisions.” Mr. Jones said he had a message for Mr. Sims: “For every flag he burns and buries, we will put 10 more up.”

Clashes over the Confederate flag are less intense now than they were in the 1980s and 1990s, said Lesley Gordon, a history professor at the University of Akron and editor of the journal “Civil War History.” While she understands Mr. Sims’s desire to combat what he considers a symbol of racism, “burning a flag has powerful symbolism,” she said. “I don’t see that in any way bringing people together and creating opportunities to learn.”

Barry Isenhour, a member of the organization Virginia Flaggers, which has protested the removal of Confederate flags from buildings, said the planned events, on a day to honor the country’s veterans, were disrespectful. “These people fought and died to protect all of us,” he said. “We think that’s sacred.”

Other controversies have erupted recently over the flag. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in March over whether Texas violated the free-speech rights of the Sons of Confederate Veterans when the state rejected the group’s proposal for a license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag.

Last year, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., removed Confederate flags from a chapel where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is buried after a group of African-American students protested that the school was unwelcoming to minorities.

Mr. Sims has stirred up controversy before. A 2004 show he did in Gettysburg, Pa., that featured a Confederate flag hanging from a gallows triggered a campaign to cancel the exhibition and raised security concerns. This time around, it is unclear whether protesters will descend on the Memorial Day events.

“We don’t plan any particular response,” said John Adams, public affairs officer for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Florida division. “My members feel that taking the high road” is best.

10/14/2013 post:

Cameron McWhirter, once on the staff of the AJC, has penned a keeper in The Wall Street Journal that reminds me of my feelings about our heritage and history that are reflected in the following 8-29-04 post entitled "I'm with the flaggers on this one -- Mock hanging of Confederate flag; I say hang the carpetbagger":

The Gwinnett Daily Post has an article entitled "Plan for mock lynching of a Confederate flag stirs controversy." And damn well it should.

It seems as though this guy from Florida – a no-good Yankee carpetbagger no doubt – has got it in his mind to hold a mock lynching of a Confederate flag as part of an art exhibition at a Gettysburg College art gallery early next month.

There is a minor movement afoot to cancel the show. Count me in.

Of all places, Gettysburg, a sacred place where both sides fought valiantly and lost thousands and thousands of lives. I took my three girls there, and hope to take my grandkids there one day just as I look forward to taking them to the Statute of Liberty.

I voted with the majority (the vote was 3-to-1) in the nonbinding referendum that approved our present flag, almost a replica of the Confederate national flag, the Stars and Bars. And I am proud of our present flag, not just because it is a part of our heritage and disguishes us from say Nevada, but because it is one good-looking flag.

I also liked the looks of the flag the legislature adopted in 1956 that contained the St. Andrew’s cross. I also like the looks of the flag the legislature replaced in 1956, but not as much as I did the looks of the 1956 flag.

(Andrews was the brother of Simon Peter, was supposedly the first-called disciple, and was reportedly crucified by the Romans on an x-shaped cross, claiming he did not feel worthy to be crucified on a regular cross as Jesus was.)

Am I glad we changed flags? You dern right I am. We had no choice.

Congress could outlaw "white only" signs, but not what the Confederate battle flag based on the St. Andrews cross had come to be – a symbol of rascism and hatred. Unfortunately, to many Americans it conjured up memories of lynchings, the KKK and nightriders, Jim Crowism, etc.

It had to go and I am glad it is behind us. Changing it took courage. We won’t hear about it next week, but Sen. Miller almost lost re-election in 1994 as governor for trying to change the flag during his first term.

And we all know it contributed to Roy Barnes’ defeat. Barnes has said: "Of course, I knew there was a chance [that changing the flag] would affect my re-election, but I also knew that the time had come to do it. We had watched what was happening in South Carolina and Mississippi. I didn't want the flag to divide Georgia more than it already had. It was the state government that changed the flag in 1956, and it was our responsibility to correct that mistake.''

I am happy the Stars and Bars has no such connotation. To try to give it such would be a mistake and injustice to the South’s history and heritage. As the Confederate national flag, Stars and Bars is part of our history as are our ancestors who fought with valor to the end, regardless for which side.

Just as the we now sing that great anthem The Battle Hymn of Republic which was the Union's marching song, we should not forget what the colors blue and grey represent, or let the song Dixie go the way of the Edsel and Oldsmobile, and not appreciate the book and movie Gone with the Wind.

And as far as I am concerned, neither should our Confederate Monuments in counties such as my own and so many others in Georgia and the South; the statutes that line the streets in Richmond, Virginia; and those on state capitols throughout the South, be regarded as other than part of our region's history.

The Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression -- call it what suits you -- is part of our history. The Confederate flag is part of that history. The carpetbagger and not our history is who needs to be lynched.

In his keeper, Cameron Whirter writes:

A statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest sits in the Memphis, Tenn., park named for the Confederate cavalryman.

A leafy park in downtown Memphis, Tenn., until a few weeks ago was named in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate lieutenant general. But the park—home to a large statue of Gen. Forrest astride his horse as well as the graves of the general and his wife—has just been renamed Health Sciences Park by the Memphis City Council, a move that has set off the latest battle in the South's continuing culture clash over the Civil War.

The council made the switch Feb. 5, days after learning of a bill introduced in the Tennessee Legislature that if passed would prohibit renaming any parks or monuments honoring war veterans, including Confederates. The council voted quickly to strip Gen. Forrest's name from the park, as well as change the names of two others, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park, which honored the Confederacy's president.

No one on the council voted against the park renaming, an action that was supported by civil-rights groups in the city. Gen. Forrest, aside from his military prowess, was also a slave trader and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a legacy that has long rankled many in Memphis, one of the largest black-majority cities in the country. But the council's move has infuriated Confederate-heritage activists

Republican state Rep. Steve McDaniel, a self-described "big-time Civil War buff," proposed his "Tennessee Heritage Preservation Act" because he worried that public parks and monuments honoring American conflicts and their veterans could be renamed or removed by groups that found parts of history distasteful, he said. "If we don't preserve our historic places today, who's going to have them there for our posterity?" he said.

In Tennessee and across the South, thousands of communities have named streets, parks and monuments to honor the "Lost Cause." But since the civil-rights movement, disputes have erupted as public views have shifted.

Confederate battle emblems have disappeared from several state flags. Street names have been changed. Just last year, the city council of Selma, Ala., halted repairs to a monument to Gen. Forrest after a bust of the general was stolen.

While many in the South are proud of Confederate heritage, others see rebel monuments and parks as glorifying the institution of slavery. Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, said in an interview that Mr. McDaniel's bill was "crazy."

Nowhere has the bill caused more uproar than in Memphis, Tennessee's largest city. After learning of Mr. McDaniel's bill, the city council stripped the parks of their Confederate names and set up an advisory committee to find permanent names. In addition to the Forrest Park change to Health Sciences Park, Confederate Park was temporarily renamed Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park was renamed Mississippi River Park.

Lee Harris, a councilman who led the name-change effort, said fear of Mr. McDaniel's bill becoming law galvanized the council. He said history "is of less importance than making sure our public space is common ground." He said the parks were "not historical at all. What we had was celebration" of the Confederacy.

But Becky Muska, who lives near Memphis and has Confederate ancestors, told the council the day it voted to change the park names: "You do not have the right to spin, edit, denounce, slander, revise, tear down, hide [or] destroy my history, because when you do that, you do that to Memphis."

Mr. McDaniel said his bill wouldn't be retroactive, so if it passes, the Memphis parks wouldn't revert to their Confederate names. He said he believed it would pass the Republican-controlled Legislature. Ms. Muska said in an interview that she and others are considering suing Memphis.

Gen. Forrest is considered one of the Confederacy's greatest cavalry commanders, according to biographer Jack Hurst. But he was also a slave trader before the war and commanded troops involved in a massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tenn., in 1864, and was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the war, Mr. Hurst said.

Lee Millar, Memphis spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Confederate heritage group, said Gen. Forrest was a "very humane" slave trader. He also said the Fort Pillow incident wasn't a massacre and that the KKK under Gen. Forrest was "like a neighborhood watch," not the racist organization that it became later. "Unfortunately, he gets a bad rap by association," Mr. Millar said.

Historians disagree. Mr. Hurst said Gen. Forrest was "one of the biggest slave traders in the western South," and slave trading was by definition inhumane. John Cimprich, a history professor who published a book on Fort Pillow, said Gen. Forrest's exact role in the incident is unclear, but black soldiers, many of whom had surrendered, were slaughtered by troops under his command. Mr. Cimprich said Gen. Forrest's KKK involvement remains "the worst thing on his record."

"I understand if a local community is not comfortable with a park being named after him," he said.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

U.K.’s Cameron to Announce Legislation on Illegal Immigrants - Immigration bill to be included in new government’s legislative agenda on May 27

From The Wall Street Journal:

LONDON—U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is due to announce Thursday plans for a fresh crackdown on illegal immigrants, including new legislation to allow police to seize the wages of foreigners who are working in the country after entering illegally or overstaying their visas.

In his first speech on immigration since being elected earlier this month for a second term in office, Mr. Cameron also is due to announce plans for measures to give authorities powers to evict illegal migrants from rented accommodations more quickly, extend a policy of deporting migrants before they can appeal, and satellite tracking of foreign criminals awaiting deportation, according to extracts of prepared remarks.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Very, very, risky: Clinton is banking on the Obama coalition to win

From The Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton is running as the most liberal Democratic presidential front-runner in decades, with positions on issues from gay marriage to immigration that would, in past elections, have put her at her party’s precarious left edge.

The moves are part of a strategic conclusion by Clinton’s emerging campaign: that it can harness the same kind of young and diverse coalition as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012, bolstered by even stronger appeal among women.

Her approach — outlined in interviews with aides and advisers — is a bet that social and demographic shifts mean that no left-leaning position Clinton takes now would be likely to hurt her in making her case to moderate and independent voters in the general election next year.

The strategy relies on calculations about the 2016 landscape, including that up to 31 percent of the electorate will be Americans of color — a projection that may be overly optimistic for her campaign. It factors in that a majority of independent voters already support same-sex marriage and the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that Clinton endorsed this month.

The game plan also hinges on a conclusion by Clinton strategists that the broad appeal of issues such as paid family leave, a higher minimum wage and more affordable college will help outweigh any concerns about costs. And while the early liberal tilt focuses on domestic issues more likely to drive voters this cycle, Clinton will also have to win over liberal voters still skeptical of her hawkish reputation on foreign policy.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Israeli Leader Forms Precarious Government - Expected 61-seat majority leaves Netanyahu little margin for error in Knesset

From The Wall Street Journal:

TEL AVIV—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cemented a conservative and religious coalition that will let him remain Israel’s leader for a fourth term, but afford little room to safeguard his government’s survival.

In an unexpected epilogue to his Likud Party’s election landslide in March, the Israeli leader became embroiled in prolonged negotiations with coalition partners that were further complicated by a former ally’s desertion this week.

The talks succeeded shortly before the legal expiration of his mandate to form the government midnight on Wednesday, but left Mr. Netanyahu with a badly truncated majority and an empowered Jewish Home party, a religious nationalist group which held out to gain concessions.

The new government member’s conservative positions are likely to complicate Mr. Netanyahu’s relations with the U.S. and Europe at a time when Israel faces increasing isolation over stalled negotiations with the Palestinians and its opposition to nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

The result came after the prime minister called early elections in December with the hope of forming a more cohesive and stable government. Instead, he has a razor-thin majority with the potential for even more instability.

The new 61-member coalition is Israel’s smallest postelection government in 34 years and leaves Mr. Netanyahu with little margin for error in the 120-seat Knesset.

Political commentators and opposition politicians criticized Mr. Netanyahu for allowing political partners win too many concessions in the negotiations.

“Netanyahu didn’t establish the government he wanted,’’ said Israel Radio political commentator Yoav Krakovsky. “He settled for a government that was forced on him by the coalition partners.”

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union Party, said Mr. Netanyahu had given into “extortion” during the talks. “A weak and narrow government that won’t advance anything,’’ Mr. Herzog called it.

Mr. Netanyahu’s struggle to form a coalition, even after requesting an extension, presages the kind of disputes that may lie ahead.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu’s combative foreign minister and longtime ally, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned his post, saying Mr. Netanyahu had done little to advance settlement expansion and wouldn’t fight against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu faced a last-minute demand for the post of Justice Minister from Mr. Bennett’s Jewish Home, the remaining holdout among Mr. Netanyahu’s partners, a move likely to create strain among other coalition partners.

“Netanyahu’s victory celebrations were premature,” said Mitchell Barak, a public-opinion analyst.

No coalition in Israel has leaned so far to the right since Mr. Netanyahu’s first government in 1996, which rose to power with promises to slow down the Palestinian peace process.

The leader’s new government will likely face pressure from the international community to halt new settlements in contested territories and accelerate peace negotiations with Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition members favor the opposite.

“There is no coherence between the policies that the international community demands of him, and what is demanded of him by his coalition partners and his party,” said Dan Meridor, who held several ministerial posts under Mr. Netanyahu. “This tension could explode. You can’t square a circle.”

That tight bargaining space within his government signals continued testy ties with President Barack Obama and European allies. They have clashed with Mr. Netanyahu over peace negotiations with the Palestinians and sparring has stretched on through talks with Iran over a potential deal to all Israel’s archrival to maintain its nuclear industry.

Few predict relations will improve much with the current White House. “The approach will be damage control,” said Oded Eran, a former deputy director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

In an internal memo last month, Israel’s foreign ministry said repairing the “severe crisis” with the White House should be a top priority for the next government. The comments, confirmed by the ministry after their publication, said Israel would soon need U.S. support in future conflicts without which Israel “would pay a heavy price.”

Palestinian statehood is one place where Israel could suffer diplomatically this year. The Jewish Home calls U.S. opposition to settlement expansion discriminatory and seeks to annex much of the West Bank into Israel. Jewish Home is against establishing a Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu has begun to say he is against establishing one in the new future.

In response, Palestinians have attempted to pass a United Nations resolution that would immediately recognize a Palestinian state and set a date for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, which it has occupied since 1967. Expressing frustration with Mr. Netanyahu, the White House said it may not veto such a proposal as it has in the past.

“The real contest with the Palestinians will take place on the international stage this year, not in Israel,” said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a political science professor at Israeli college IDC Herzliya.

Mr. Netanyahu’s thin majority could also impede the government’s domestic agenda. Moshe Kahlon, the incoming finance minister from the new center-right Kulanu party, rose to power promising an overhaul of the Israeli economy to reduce the cost of living. Economic inequality and rising house prices have often eclipsed security as Israel’s main political issue and resulted in large-scale protests in 2011.

Kahlon has said he plans to push reforms in the housing market and food retail market. He has also said he want to force banks to reduce fees on private individuals. But to succeed he will now need every vote in the coalition.

Voters will be watching carefully to see if he succeeds on that front, analysts say, and will punish Mr. Netanyahu if he doesn’t gain traction.

School-Lunch Program - Scrutiny comes as USDA reports nearly $2.7 billion in improper payments related to free and reduced-price meals

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—Republican lawmakers promised to boost oversight of the school-meal program Thursday after the Agriculture Department reported that it made nearly $2.7 billion in improper payments during the 2012-13 school year.

The program, which cost taxpayers more than $16 billion in 2014, provides free and reduced-priced lunches and breakfasts to more than 20 million children a day and is administered by the states. It is the second-largest federal nutrition program behind food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“We will need to improve the administration of these programs to reduce errors,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said at a Thursday hearing on the issue. “That’s a considerable amount of money.” Mr. Roberts will take a lead role in reauthorizing the law that oversees breakfast and lunch standards for K-12 schools. It expires in September.

His counterparts in the House also appear focused on improper payments. “Tackling waste, fraud, and abuse must be a priority as we work to better serve those most in need,” said Rep. Todd Rokita (R., Ind.), chairman of the House Education Committee’s panel on early-childhood, elementary and secondary education.

The Agriculture Department, in its first review of payment errors since 2007, said this week that 18% of all payments made during the 2012-13 school year were incorrect, with about 70% of those involving overpayments. The USDA said some of the incorrect payments could have been counted twice, resulting in inflated numbers.

The largest single source of faulty payments involved families getting benefits for which they didn’t qualify, often because they made mistakes on their applications. The application process is prone to errors, in part, because families aren’t required to document their incomes. Problems are often discovered when school officials try to verify applications.

Another major source of incorrect payments occurred in school cafeterias, when cashiers miscalculated how many meals qualify for reimbursement.

The Agriculture Department’s internal auditor said in a separate report this week that school food officials ended up reducing or ending benefits for more than half the families they checked in the 2012-13 school year.

“Based on these results, we conclude that it is likely that other students receiving free or reduced-price meals may not be eligible for them,” the inspector general said.

The inspector general said USDA should start requiring income documentation, but the agency rejected the idea, saying it would create barriers for families who need the help. “Schools are responsible for ensuring that school meal programs are administered correctly, while maintaining access to this critical program for those who qualify,” USDA spokeswoman Brooke Hardison said.

To reduce faulty payments, the USDA is expanding the use of “direct certification,” in which schools enroll families for meal benefits based on participation in other benefit programs, such as food stamps, that verify incomes.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that changes aimed at reducing payment errors could have “unintended consequences,” making it harder for qualifying families to receive benefits they need.

The USDA also allows schools in some low-income neighborhoods to provide free meals to all students. It reduces paperwork burdens for the schools and lowers the chances that students will experience stigma from receiving a subsidized meal.

Time will tell I suspect: How the Clintons Get Away With It - The Clintons are protected from charges of corruption by their reputation for corruption.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

I have read the Peter Schweizer book “ Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.” It is something. Because it is heavily researched and reported and soberly analyzed, it is a highly effective takedown. Because its tone is modest—Mr. Schweizer doesn’t pretend to more than he has, or take wild interpretive leaps—it is believable.

By the end I was certain of two things. A formal investigation, from Congress or the Justice Department, is needed to determine if Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned, at least to some degree and in some cases, as a pay-for-play operation and whether the Clinton Foundation has functioned, at least in part, as a kind of high-class philanthropic slush fund.

I wonder if any aspirant for the presidency except Hillary Clinton could survive such a book. I suspect she can because the Clintons are unique in the annals of American politics: They are protected from charges of corruption by their reputation for corruption. It’s not news anymore. They’re like . . . Bonnie and Clyde go on a spree, hold up a bunch of banks, it causes a sensation, there’s a trial, and they’re acquitted. They walk out of the courthouse, get in a car, rob a bank, get hauled in, complain they’re being picked on—“Why are you always following us?”—and again, not guilty. They rob the next bank and no one cares. “That’s just Bonnie and Clyde doing what Bonnie and Clyde do. No one else cares, why should I?”

Mr. Schweizer announces upfront that he cannot prove wrongdoing, only patterns of behavior. There is no memo that says, “To all staff: If we deal this week with any issues regarding Country A, I want you to know country A just gave my husband $750,000 for a speech, so give them what they want.” Even if Mrs. Clinton hadn’t destroyed her emails, no such memo would be found. (Though patterns, dates and dynamics might be discerned.)

Mr. Schweizer writes of “the flow of tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation . . . from foreign governments, corporations, and financiers.” It is illegal for foreign nationals to give to U.S. political campaigns, but foreign money, given as donations to the Clinton Foundation or speaking fees, comes in huge amounts: “No one has even come close in recent years to enriching themselves on the scale of the Clintons while they or a spouse continued to serve in public office.” The speaking fees Bill commands are “enormous and unprecedented,” as high as $750,000 a speech. On occasion they have been paid by nations or entities that had “matters of importance sitting on Hillary’s desk” when she was at State.

From 2001 through 2012 Bill collected $105.5 million for speeches and raised hundreds of millions for the foundation. When she was nominated, Hillary said she saw no conflict. President Obama pressed for a memorandum of understanding in which the Clintons would agree to submit speeches to State’s ethics office, disclose the names of major donors to the foundation, and seek administration approval before accepting direct contributions to the foundation from foreign governments. The Clintons accepted the agreement and violated it “almost immediately.” Revealingly, they amassed wealth primarily by operating “at the fringes of the developed world.” Their “most lucrative transactions” did not involve countries like Germany and Britain, where modern ethical rules and procedures are in force, but emerging nations, where regulations are lax.

How did it work? “Bill flew around the world making speeches and burnishing his reputation as a global humanitarian and wise man. Very often on these trips he was accompanied by ‘close friends’ or associates who happened to have business interests pending in these countries.” Introductions were made, conversations had. “Meanwhile, bureaucratic or legislative obstacles were mysteriously cleared or approvals granted within the purview of his wife, the powerful senator or secretary of state.”

Mr. Schweizer tells a story with national-security implications. Kazakhstan has rich uranium deposits, coveted by those who’d make or sell nuclear reactors or bombs. In 2006 Bill Clinton meets publicly and privately with Kazakhstan’s dictator, an unsavory character in need of respectability. Bill brings along a friend, a Canadian mining tycoon named Frank Giustra. Mr. Giustra wanted some mines. Then the deal was held up. A Kazakh official later said Sen. Clinton became involved. Mr. Giustra got what he wanted.

Soon after, he gave the Clinton Foundation $31.3 million. A year later Mr. Giustra’s company merged with a South African concern called Uranium One. Shareholders later wrote millions of dollars in checks to the Clinton Foundation. Mr. Giustra announced a commitment of $100 million to a joint venture, the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative.

It doesn’t end there. When Hillary was secretary of state, Russia moved for a bigger piece of the world uranium market. The Russians wanted to acquire Uranium One, which had significant holdings in the U.S. That meant the acquisition would require federal approval. Many had reservations: Would Russian control of so much U.S. uranium be in America’s interests? The State Department was among the agencies that had to sign off. Money from interested parties rolled into the foundation. The deal was approved. The result? “Half of projected American uranium production” was “transferred to a private company controlled” by Russia, which soon owned it outright.

What would a man like Vladimir Putin think when he finds out he can work the U.S. system like this? He’d think it deeply decadent. He’d think it weak. Is that why he laughs when we lecture him on morals?

Mr. Schweizer offers a tough view of the Clinton Foundation itself. It is not a “traditional charity,” in that there is a problem “delineating where the Clinton political machines and moneymaking ventures end and where their charity begins.” The causes it promotes—preventing obesity, alleviating AIDS suffering—are worthy, and it does some good, but mostly it functions as a middleman. The foundation’s website shows the Clintons holding sick children in Africa, but unlike Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, the foundation does “little hands-on humanitarian work.” It employs longtime Clinton associates and aides, providing jobs “to those who served the Clintons when in power and who may serve them again.” The Better Business Bureau in 2013 said it failed to meet minimum standards of accountability and transparency. Mr. Schweizer notes that “at least four Clinton Foundation trustees have either been charged or convicted of financial crimes including bribery and fraud.”

There’s more. Mrs. Clinton has yet to address any of it.

If the book is true—if it’s half-true—it is a dirty story.

It would be good if the public, the Democratic Party and the Washington political class would register some horror, or at least dismay.

I write on the eve of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, May 8, 1945. America had just saved the world. The leaders of the world respected us—a great people led by tough men. What do they think now? Scary to think, isn’t it?

Good job Mr. Netanyahu: Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities

From The New York Times:

LOS ANGELES — The debates can stretch from dusk to dawn, punctuated by tearful speeches and forceful shouting matches, with accusations of racism, colonialism and anti-Semitism. At dozens of college campuses across the country, student government councils are embracing resolutions calling on their administrations to divest from companies that enable what they see as Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.
And while no university boards or administrators are heeding the students’ demands, the effort to pressure Israel appears to be gaining traction at campuses across the country and driving a wedge between many Jewish and minority students.
The movement is part of the broader Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or B.D.S., which has spread in recent years both in Europe and the United States. The issue has received intense attention on campus particularly since the conflict in Gaza last summer, which killed hundreds of Palestinians. The movement’s goal is to isolate and punish Israel for its policies toward Palestinians and its occupation of the West Bank.
Supporters of Israel say the most dangerous possibility is that the current campus atmosphere is delegitimizing the country, making it acceptable to question whether Jews are entitled to a nation.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Immigration Debate Caught in a Time Warp - Discussion focusing on Hispanic immigrants mostly misses today’s issues

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Politicians like to say they are debating what should happen tomorrow, but way too often they are instead locked in argument about something that happened yesterday. A classic case: the current immigration debate.

In three years of trying, Congress has failed in high-profile efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. Meanwhile, the early 2016 Republican presidential sweepstakes are heavily colored by debate over what candidates will or won’t do, or have or haven’t done, about immigration.

Yet the premise of this immigration debate—that waves of Hispanic immigrants are sweeping across our southern border, swelling the nation’s population of undocumented immigrants and transforming the culture and economy—is caught in a kind of time warp, dominated by trends of decades past and largely missing the immigration issues that really matter today.

In fact, the nation’s immigration flows have undergone a fundamental change, as have the issues that are relevant now, even if the political conversation hasn’t. Consider some data points:

—In 2013, China replaced Mexico as the top country sending immigrants to the U.S., according a new Census Bureau study. Indeed, immigration from both China and India has been increasing for a decade, and inflows from other Asian countries are climbing as well, while immigration from Mexico has been declining, the study notes.

—During the first six months of the current fiscal year, the number of apprehensions of immigrants coming illegally across the southwest border—a strong indicator of efforts to cross the border illegally—was 28% lower than in the prior year, the Department of Homeland Security reported late last month. Overall, apprehensions today are “a fraction of where they were 15 years ago,” the department says, and data confirm that.

—The influx of young and unaccompanied minors from Central America, which generated much attention and alarm a year ago, has declined dramatically, partly the result of a serious effort by Mexico to clamp down on use of its territory as a transit point. The number of unaccompanied minors from Central America that Mexico has deported rose 56% in the first five months of the current fiscal year, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

A clear sign of substantial change arrived three years ago this spring, when Pew reported that, after four decades of a steady inflow of illegal Mexican immigrants into the U.S., the influx had begun to reverse—that is, more Mexicans were returning to Mexico than were coming into the U.S., according to data from both countries.

A combination of factors—steady improvements in Mexico’s economy, strengthened border enforcement and deportations, a decline in Mexican birth rates—has come together over a period of years to change the picture.

Yet that change has barely made a dent in the political rhetoric that shapes the national immigration conversation. “The immigration debate seems to be stuck around the year 2006, and before then,” says Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Almost all the negative comments I get are, ‘Why do you want illiterate Mexicans here?’ ”

The new face of American immigrants is more likely to be Asian, and Mr. Nowrasteh notes that the Asian arrivals bring a significantly different profile than did Hispanic immigrants of recent decades: They are better educated and more economically successful. “Asian immigrants are doing amazingly well in this country,” he says.

At this point, says William Frey of the Brookings Institution, “the growth of the Hispanic population in this country is coming largely from natural increase, not from immigration.”

In a new book and other writings, Mr. Frey explores the demographic shifts that really are shaping 21st century America, and that ought to be shaping its immigration debate. The country’s white population is barely growing, he writes, and in a decade or so will begin to decline. The U.S. is on its way to becoming a country with no clear racial majority—a true patchwork nation.

In that economy, Mr. Frey notes, immigrant contributions become “absolutely necessary....We need to understand what our labor force really needs in this country.”

That’s the subject that should be the crux of today’s immigration debate. Yet, Mr. Frey says, “none of this is being discussed in a rational way.”

Instead, the discussion is fixated on securing a southwest border that, evidence indicates, is significantly more secure than it was a decade ago, and on deciding what to do about the 11 million undocumented aliens already here, who, everybody really knows, aren’t going anywhere, unless they choose to leave. Should they be given a “path to citizenship” or a “path to legal status,” and would either of those represent a form of “amnesty”?

Those are important and emotional questions, to be sure—but also more of the past than the future.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Almost half of Obamacare exchanges face financial struggles in the future

From The Washington Post:

Nearly half of the 17 insurance marketplaces set up by the states and the District under President Obama’s health law are struggling financially, presenting state officials with an unexpected and serious challenge five years after the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act.

Many of the online exchanges are wrestling with surging costs, especially for balky technology and expensive customer call centers — and tepid enrollment numbers. To ease the fiscal distress, officials are considering raising fees on insurers, sharing costs with other states and pressing state lawmakers for cash infusions. Some are weighing turning over part or all of their troubled marketplaces to the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, which now works smoothly.

The latest challenges come at a critical time. With two enrollment periods completed, the law has sharply reduced the number of uninsured and is starting to force change in the nation’s sprawling health-care system. But the law remains highly controversial and faces another threat: The Supreme Court will decide by the end of June whether consumers in the 34 states using the federal exchange will be barred from receiving subsidies to buy insurance.

If the court strikes down subsidies in the federal exchange, the states that are struggling financially might be less likely to turn over all operations to the federal marketplace, because they will want to make sure their residents do not lose subsidies to help them buy insurance. If the court upholds subsidies for the federal exchange, some states might step up efforts to transfer operations to HealthCare.gov.

WSJ commentary worth reading (not politics; all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy): How Cable Lost the Remote - ESPN’s suit against Verizon shows an industry panicked over the looming breakup of its business model.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Everybody loves watching sharks,” Discovery CommunicationsDISCA1.17% founder John Hendricks quipped at a media conference years ago, “and people will watch anything about Nazis. If we could just get sharks to fight Nazis, we would mint money.” He needn’t bother.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who oversees the cable empire that includes the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet, pulled in $156 million in compensation last year, up from $33 million in 2013. Expect that to change.

This isn’t a rant against CEO pay, but it is irritating that you and I helped pay Mr. Zaslav’s salary when most of us don’t use his product. One of Discovery Channel’s highest-rated shows, “Naked and Afraid,” which documents partially blurred naked people living in the wild for 21 days, boasted 2.9 million viewers last year out of 100 million households that pay for the channel through basic cable. Discovery Communications’ $3 billion in U.S. sales for 2014 means that each household paid about a buck to Mr. Zaslav. A nice gig if you can get it.

But this is how the cable cabal works—or worked. ESPN’s recent decision to sue VerizonVZ-0.06% over cable-package placement is one indication that change is afoot.

With a local monopoly, cable operators dictate packages and pricing, markets be damned. Satellite rarely competes on price. Cable bills have grown at almost triple the rate of inflation over the past two decades, according to the Federal Communications Commission. But in April, Verizon announced Custom TV, which offers a few basic channels and additional channel packs: Kids, Pop Culture, Lifestyle, Entertainment, News & Info, Sports Plus and Sports. The Discovery Channel is no longer basic cable. Neither is ESPN. Uh oh.

How did the unraveling happen? Three decades ago, Discovery traded half of the company to cable operator TCI in exchange for inclusion in basic cable, along with a nickel a month in fees for each subscriber. Today Discovery Channel charges $1.21 a month for each subscriber, according to the financial information firm SNL Kagan.

Sports channels are worse. DisneyDIS1.66%’s ESPN charges more than $6 a subscriber, up from $2.50 less than 10 years ago. Time WarnerTWX1.39%’s TNT, which carries the NBA, is almost $2 a month. In October the NBA signed a $24 billion broadcast deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, up 180% from the previous deal. You can bet those fees are headed up.

Subscribers bear the cost: The average monthly cable bill is $64 a month, and DirecTVDTV-0.34%’s is $107. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes has said that less than half of those with a cable bundle watch sports, and so ESPN would implode without the basic cable deal. Cable channels accounted for one-third of Disney’s revenue in 2014, and half of profits. No wonder the company is suing.

The cable gusher may still be five years away, but here are a few places you can see the dripping.

The largest cable operator, Comcast,CMCSA1.13% still owns cable channels and NBCUniversal, but the rest of the industry has mostly separated. Time Warner split off from Time Warner CableTWC1.11% in 2007. Though Comcast wasn’t allowed to buy Time Warner Cable, someone else will, perhaps Charter, Cox, AT&TT-0.64% or Verizon, all of whom are in the distribution game. Disney, ViacomVIAB-0.40% and Fox own content. While channels look for wide distribution, both cable and broadband are more than capable of delivering video. After all, it’s just data.

For instance, if you’re under 30, you probably use Netflix,NFLX0.10% Amazon or Hulu to stream content straight to your tablet. About 30 million homes have HBO or Showtime, meaning 70 million don’t. HBO Now lets you stream shows for $15 a month. This isn’t a disruptive price, but at some point the company could drop the number to steal customers from cable. DISH satellite offers SlingTV for $20 a month. Few would ditch cable at that rate, but at $10 a month? It starts to look tempting.

Then there’s piracy. Seconds after shows hit the air, they are available on torrent sites. The top Pirate Bay downloads in the past few days were “Game of Thrones,” “Gotham” and “Better Call Saul.” Who needs cable? Most TV is dull and someone will chop up the comedy shows and upload the highlights to YouTube so you can catch up while you’re bored at work.

Today’s wild card is mobile. The 4G network is almost good enough to stream TV on a phone, and Wi-Fi could become a distribution channel. The big digital players are starting to see the value. Facebook,FB0.28% for instance, recently announced $1 billion of infrastructure spending, including Internet-beaming drones to help expand global Internet access, with—you guessed it—free or preferential access for Facebook.

GoogleGOOGL0.44% has three mobile initiatives: Project Loon, a network of high-altitude Internet balloons; Google Fi, which offers mobile service by renting SprintS1.75% and T-MobileTMUS-0.56% networks; and gigabit Ethernet called Google Fiber. Amazon is rumored to be working on a wireless network. Apple owns mindshare, if not marketshare, in mobile and can partner with everybody.

While cable languishes, mobile will borrow the Discovery Channel’s lucrative model of coupling content and distribution. Don’t expect wireless network operators and Internet service companies to stay separate; Google owning AT&T is not far-fetched, and neither is Facebook owning Verizon or even a piece of China Mobile. Competition will get fierce. That will be a Shark Week worth watching.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Young Saudi Royals Rise as Kingdom Tries to Assert Regional Leadership - New monarch changes the line of succession

From The Wall Street Journal:

RIYADH—The Saudi monarchy’s overhaul of its aging leadership moves a younger generation of royals into position to reinvigorate the country at a time when it is trying to assert political and military leadership in the Middle East and reshape ties with the West.

In a kingdom where elderly and infirm monarchs made all major decisions for decades, the empowerment of younger members of the House of Saud is a significant departure. It has already translated into a surprisingly activist foreign policy that has asserted Saudi leadership of a Sunni Muslim bloc confronting mainly Shiite Iran. And it comes as oil-rich Saudi Arabia faces economic challenges at home brought on by the sharp fall in the price of crude.

Since assuming the throne after the death of his half-brother in January, King Salman has sought to put Saudi Arabia’s stamp on the Middle East.

The latest shake-up, announced in a royal decree on Wednesday, showed the new monarch was throwing his weight behind a more aggressive foreign policy that has deepened Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Syria’s war and brought together a coalition of Sunni Arab states now carrying out airstrikes against Iran-linked rebels who have overrun much of neighboring Yemen.

“In an era of U.S. retrenchment, they see a change on the ground and they feel they have to do this,” said Salman Shaikh, the director of the Brookings Doha Center think tank in Qatar. “They are leading at a time when the region is willing to follow.”

As part of a broad cabinet reshuffle, the king replaced his younger half-brother, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, as crown prince. He appointed his nephew, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who now becomes his new heir apparent.

The king appointed his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince, making him second in line to the throne. The prince, about 29 years old, has been serving as defense minister during the military campaign in Yemen.

King Salman also sidelined Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal. In his place, he tapped U.S. Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. Mr. Jubeir has become the kingdom’s public face in Washington, explaining the decision to begin airstrikes in Yemen.

Some analysts see in King Salman’s appointments an attempt to replace the U.S. as the pre-eminent military force in the region, as the Obama administration focuses on Asia and a rising China.

In recent months, the kingdom hasn’t been shy about using its wealth and military hardware to support friends and weaken foes. King Salman has made support for Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad a priority. He met in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last month with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said they agreed to boost support for the Syrian opposition.

“During King Abdullah, we did not have a foreign policy, and just watched events unfold in front of our eyes in Yemen,” said prominent Saudi sociologist and commentator Khalid al Dakhil. The new administration in Riyadh “is making the right choices” and has the will to follow through, he said.

The changes elevate at least two key officials with close ties to U.S. officials, and were welcomed by the Obama administration, which singled out new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in particular as a long-standing ally.

“Many American officials have worked very closely with Mohammed bin Nayef,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said the move is a “very positive step,” citing Mr. Jubeir’s appointment as a key move. “They chose one of the most well-respected members of their government to have a very important job at a critical time. He’s a very good man who understands the world as it is,” Mr. Graham said in an interview. “I think this is a giant step in the right direction.”

The kingdom not only faces the challenge of trying to pick winners in the region’s conflicts. It is also trying to ride out a protracted slump in oil prices, which have put pressure on the budget of the world’s largest crude exporter and undermined its economic growth.

The Institute of International Finance, a trade body of global banks, predicts Saudi’s gross domestic product will slow to 2.7% in 2016 from 3% this year, largely as a result of lower oil prices.

To offset the slowing economy, the kingdom has sought to stir investor interest. In June, it will open the region’s biggest stock market to direct foreign investment. Riyadh may end up competing with Tehran for capital as well as influence, as Iran is moving toward a stock market opening of its own--if western sanctions are lifted in the wake of a nuclear deal.

Other challenges prompting the leadership changes include shifting demographics, analysts say. Some 46% of the kingdom’s estimated 27.3 million people are age 24 and under.

“There appears to have been an awareness that there was a significant generational gap between the senior leadership and the Saudi population at large,” said Fahad Nazer, a terrorism analyst at JTG Inc. and former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

“King Salman wants to inject some new blood into the cabinet while still retaining some more experienced veterans.”

The leadership changes come amid rising tensions in the region, stoked in part by Saudi Arabia’s campaign in neighboring Yemen.

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival for power in the region, has sharply criticized Riyadh’s new approach to foreign policy.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei complained earlier this month that Saudi Arabia’s traditional caution in world affairs has been jettisoned by “inexperienced youngsters who want to show savagery instead of patience and self-restraint.”

Iran has yet to respond officially to Wednesday’s leadership changes, but Iranian analysts cast them as the result of divisions within the Saudi leadership and the slow progress of the air campaign in Yemen.

“These changes show strong differences inside the Saudi authorities, considering the Yemen war as well as inhumane attacks on the defenseless Yemeni people by the Saudis,” Tehran-based commentator Hassan Hanizadeh told state television on Wednesday. “This has caused a split among the rulers of Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Arabia recently said it was moving to a new, mainly diplomatic phase after carrying out airstrikes in Yemen for a month. Regular strikes continued even after the announcement, however, targeting the Shiite-linked Houthi rebels who took over the government in Yemen in February.

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia supports Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the country after the Houthi rebels took charge.

Baligh Al Mikhlafi, the co-founder of Yemen’s National Rescue Alliance party and an aide to the exiled Mr. Hadi, said the Saudi campaign was getting bogged down in Yemen and that the country’s foreign policy needed fresh perspective.

“The threats facing Saudi are critical and they need young minds to ensure a successful foreign policy in Yemen,” he said. “Saudi needs the best anti-Houthi team they can get, and they did just that.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

GOP Budget Workarounds Raise Ire Of Fiscal Hawks - Some lawmakers say effort to avoid unpopular spending cuts relies on gimmicks

My man (and for the record, I supported and remain a big fan of Harold Ford who lost to Sen. Corker) Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) called a workaround to ease nondefense spending curbs a ‘budget gimmick.’

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—Republican lawmakers’ effort to finalize their first budget agreement in nearly a decade hit a snag Tuesday amid an internal row over whether it relies too heavily on gimmicks to avoid unpopular spending cuts.

The tensions flared into the open when Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said he hadn’t signed off on the proposal hashed out this week between House and Senate Republicans, who have been working to reconcile separate budget blueprints they passed last month. Republicans want to balance the budget over 10 years, but for the coming fiscal year, that same proposal would increase military spending while avoiding significant efforts to curb entitlements.

“What you are doing here is you’re increasing spending,” said William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former GOP congressional budget aide.

The struggle underscores the GOP’s challenge in satisfying an unwieldy coalition while controlling both chambers of Congress. Fiscal hawks want a balanced budget while defense hawks have insisted on paring back across-the-board spending curbs agreed to four years ago. Appropriators, meanwhile, could face defections from Republicans when they must specify where to cut funds in bills later this year.

President Barack Obama’s budget in February called for 7% increases in both defense and nondefense spending, which would require legislation to roll back the curbs known as the sequester. His budget appeared crafted to forge a compromise with Republicans over the spending caps, but Republicans instead have agreed to boost the defense budget using a separate emergency war fund that isn’t subject to the across-the-board curbs.

Mr. Corker said Tuesday he was frustrated by a separate workaround to ease nondefense spending curbs by relying on a rule known as Changes in Mandatory Programs, or Chimps.

The budget tool allows lawmakers who pass individual spending bills more breathing room on the spending curbs, and its use has increased sharply since the sequester took effect four years ago.
Using Chimps, appropriators can boost spending if they find offsetting savings in mandatory spending programs, but most of those savings aren’t ultimately realized, making them anathema to fiscal hawks and those who have promised—as Senate Republicans did when they took the gavel on the budget committee—to stop using budget gimmicks.

Passing a budget resolution also would give Republicans the ability to use a tool known as reconciliation, in which legislation can pass Congress with a simple majority.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Italian Towns Push Back on Growing Burden of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Italian government is locked in a battle with local towns and regions that are resisting—and even ignoring—demands from Rome to resettle the surging number of migrants in their areas.

This month, at least 20 mayors threatened to resign or occupied buildings together with residents to block the arrival of migrants sent by the government. Local associations have organized street protests.

For Italy as a whole, foreigners represent 8.1%, triple the percentage in 2003.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shields and Brooks on Clinton money questions

From Shields and Brooks on the PBS Newshour:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly is a — at least a debate in the short term. And the president saying today that we’re going to — that he’s going to reevaluate and look at whether any changes can be made.

But let me turn you to something else closer to home, but very much in the news this week, David, and that is the stories yesterday in your newspaper, The New York Times, and other news organizations about the Clinton Foundation, about money going to the foundation, about a uranium mining company, a Canadian company with donations, again, the head of the company giving money to the foundation, and then that company needing an OK from the U.S. government for the Russians to buy controlling interest.

What are we learning here about the Clinton Foundation and the charities they run?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it’s way more egregious than I expected.

I thought there were donations and people were giving money. But there were probably people giving money for the noblest of reasons to the foundation, some people not — apparently giving money not for the noblest of reasons. And this uranium story, where there’s a connection, where the secretary of state nominally sits on this government body which gives OKs to mergers with national security implications, and then a company deeply involved in that kind of merger giving lots of money in the opportune money to the Clinton Foundation, according to my newspaper, the foundation not reporting it really adequately, that’s reasonably stark.

Now, the defense is, she didn’t know, she wasn’t directly involved. Well, that’s completely plausible. But the fact is, you’re sitting on — as secretary of state, or you’re Bill Clinton running the foundation, and somebody’s giving you all this money and you know it has government implications, and that doesn’t ring all sorts of alarm bells?

Where’s the self-protection there? Where is the self-censorship or the self-thing, no, this is not right? And so I’m sort of stunned by it. I’m surprised by it. And, you know, the paradox of it right now is for Hillary Clinton’s president — or candidacy is, people think she’s a strong leader.

But the latest Quinnipiac poll suggests they don’t trust her, they don’t think she’s honest. They have these two thoughts in their minds at the same time. And it just seems, with the Clinton family, there’s going to be a lot of competence and a lot of great political talent and governmental talent, but you’re going to have a run of low-level scandals throughout the whole deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you see?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there’s two separate memories that Democrats have of the Clinton years, the golden Clinton years, the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the country for African-Americans, and Latinos, lowest unemployment rate in 40 years for — among women, the first — greatest surpluses and budget deficit — budget in the country’s history, first balanced budget in 50 years, I mean, just rather remarkable.

Then there’s the transactional part of the Clinton administration, sort of the darker part, the major donations and renting out the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, the briefings in the Map Room at the White House for businesspeople who contributed and meet their regulators, and, worst of all, the Marc Rich pardon, where his wife, Denise, who has since, let it be noted, renounced her American citizenship and gone to a tax haven, gave $201,000 to the Democratic Party, $450,000 to the Clinton Library, and $100,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

And, in return, apparently, she got a pardon for her husband, the fugitive financier, who is really one the sleaziest people on the planet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, this is bad at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

MARK SHIELDS: This is the end of the administration.

But this is what it evokes, this kind of — the sense of the money and is their transactional politics. And I just think it comes now at a time when you have got to be totally transparent and get it out there, now amending their filings.

But I think this is — there is sort of dispirited feeling among Democrats. There’s enormous respect for her as a leader and her talents, but there’s a question of, my goodness, are we going to have more of this?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it mean for her campaign?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, for the Democratic Party, it should mean, let’s look around. Is this all we have got? Whether she’s strong or not, you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Second, it re-raises the e-mail issue. Now it just — before, she could have some plausible case that the e-mails were destroyed because they were nobody’s business. But now, each time you get another scandal, you think, oh, that’s why she destroyed the e-mails, because she didn’t want — to hide.

And so it just brings that up again. And then they raised a lot of money. And Bill Clinton gave a lot of speeches. And she gave a lot of speeches. It’s very unlikely this is the last of the cases, this one uranium. And there’s the book coming out in a few weeks possibly detailing more of the cases. And so it will just be a steady theme, a subtheme of her campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: Let me just make one quick point.

And that is, Bill Clinton did get $500,000 for a speech — that’s a lot of money — in Russia. David goes for half of that. No, but…


DAVID BROOKS: Seventy percent.

MARK SHIELDS: Seventy percent.

But Ronald Reagan, when he left office in 1989, went to Japan, he gave two speeches of 20 minutes each for $2 million, $2 million, which is $4 million in today’s dollars, and $2 million contribution to the Reagan Library.

The difference? Nancy Reagan wasn’t secretary of state. Nancy Reagan wasn’t getting to run for president of the United States. I mean, George W. Bush has made a lot of money on speeches. But that’s what makes it unseemly. And that’s what makes Democrats nervous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But one of the arguments the Clinton people are making, though, is it’s disclosed, that they have disclosed everything, and if they haven’t, they are going to get everything out there.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. They have got to get everything…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that take any of the bad taste…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Transparency — I think, at some point probably, the president is going to — former President Clinton is going to do almost a grilling, explaining what the Clinton Foundation did.

But I think this is — it’s a time for transparency, but it’s also a time for accountability here. And I think it’s going to be a — to their advantage, this is April of 2015. If it were Labor Day of 2016 and she were the nominee, this would really be a serious blow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the transparency thing?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it helps.

But the thing they don’t know is why people gave them the money. A lot of people were giving them millions of dollars. And some people did it probably because they believe in the foundation work, and they did it for beautiful reasons. A lot of people give money to these things and to presidential candidates because they want to be near the flame of power. They just want to be in the room.
They can go home and say, oh, I chatted with Bill Clinton. But some people give it because they are imagining a quid pro quo. I doubt there’s an actual quid pro quo. Mitt Romney said today it looked like bribery. I think that’s — there’s no evidence of that.


DAVID BROOKS: But you want to plant the seed. And you have got an issue before the government. And you think, well, this is how government works in a lot of other countries. It probably works a little like this in the U.S., too, and therefore I’m going to plant the seed of goodwill, I will get in the room.

And there’s no quid pro quo, but it’s not great. And so there are all these people giving them money for all different motives, some of them good and some of them pretty bad.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, just one quick thing — $93 million Sheldon Adelson and wife gave to Republican candidates in 2012.

And the Koch brothers are talking about raising $900 million. They are not altruists. I mean, they have an agenda. Make no mistake about it. That’s what we’re talking about with the dimension of money now in our politics, which is very much in the saddle.

And to Lindsey Graham and Hillary Clinton’s credit, they are the only two people I know running who say we need a constitutional amendment to change it.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It would just say, quickly, there is a difference between an ideological agenda, which seems to me legitimate, and a business deal that you want to get ratified.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, OK. No, I’m not questioning — I would rather — I would take the second, quite frankly.

DAVID BROOKS: Interesting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You would take which?

MARK SHIELDS: I would take a business — I would take a business deal, rather than somebody who is making foreign policy for the United States.

Friday, April 24, 2015

LifeLine, $6.31 a month. There is no free lunch.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Under the Federal Communications Commission program, called Lifeline, phone companies receive money for providing discounts to low-income customers. In 2012 the FCC passed new regulations designed to reduce fraud in the program, including a requirement that all beneficiaries certify their eligibility annually. That led to significant declines in enrollment. But this year’s drop was especially large.

Among those dropped are people who appear to qualify based on the program’s criteria. Sofiya Altshuler, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said she was surprised when she received a Verizon bill for $59.89 in February, up from $6.31 in January.

In 2014 the Lifeline program spent $1.6 billion to discount 12.4 million phone lines.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Turkey Breaks From West on Defense - Ankara takes steps to boost its own arms industry and reduce its military dependence on its NATO allies

From The Wall Street Journal:

ISTANBUL—Since the Ottoman Empire traded swords for guns two centuries ago, Turkey’s military has relied on Western arms and know-how. Now, the country’s leadership is pushing to end that arrangement in a shift that is rattling its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

Ankara has recently moved to diminish Turkey’s military dependence on the West, including last month inaugurating rocket testing and a radar technologies facilities. Both are part of Turkey’s effort to boost a fast-growing arms export industry that also is supplying its own forces with locally built tanks, warships, drones, missiles and—by the republic’s centenary in 2023—a jet fighter.

Ankara has also rejected bids by its NATO allies for a missile-defense system in favor of a Chinese-built one that one these partners say is incompatible with their technology and threatens intelligence cooperation.

Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government argues it needs a more independent military force to avoid the fate of the Ottomans, whose empire collapsed after banking on alliances with Germany and Austria-Hungary, only to be invaded by the U.K. and France—a bitter historical chapter that still fuels mistrust toward the West.

“We lost World War I because the Ottoman state did not have its own combat technique,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a March ceremony at the 100th anniversary of the Turk victory over the Allies in the Dardanelles. “A nation that doesn’t have its own defense industry cannot have a claim to independence.”

The government’s historically grounded concerns also have modern precedents: The U.S. imposed a crushing arms embargo on Turkey for more than three years after Ankara’s 1974 military intervention in Cyprus. And only after long and contentious discussions did NATO allies agree to deploy Patriots to protect the country during the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq war.

Still, the policy shift is roiling Turkey’s decadeslong alliance with the West, just as both sides seek each other’s help to counter security threats, particularly in the battle against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

“Turkey is recasting itself as a nonaligned country in its rhetoric, which is making NATO very uncomfortable,” said a Western official in Brussels. “Turkey’s stance will be an issue for years to come, not only if the Chinese missile deal happens, but also because of its politics.”

Many officials in Washington and Brussels view the developments as part of a broader pivot by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose efforts to forge an independent foreign policy also led to other strains—over Syria, Egypt and Israel, for example.

Coming to power in 2003, the Turkish leader for years embraced close Western ties as the country bid to join the European Union. But accession talks stalled in recent years amid mounting Western concerns that Mr. Erdogan was becoming more autocratic, while he accused the West of undermining Turkey’s progress.

Still, Ankara has repeatedly stressed its commitment to NATO; the president’s spokesman said in February that Turkey’s membership in the alliance wasn’t up for debate. Turkey still cooperates closely with NATO.

Mr. Erdogan’s government said it deported 1,000 would-be jihadists and boosted intelligence sharing following Western criticism that Turkey wasn’t doing enough to combat Islamic State. Last month, Turkey let the U.S. deploy armed drones at the Incirlik Air Base to help fight the militants. Since 2013, it has hosted 750 NATO troops and five Patriot batteries from the alliance. And Turkey joined NATO’s antipiracy operation off Africa’s coast in March and participated in the U.K.-hosted Joint Warrior drill this month.

“Turkey contributes to strengthening our collective defense in response to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine, and Turkey is also making a significant contribution to our missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan,” NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said.

But Turkey—which has the second-largest land force in NATO after the U.S.—is also making an aggressive push to carve out a more independent military, making old friends nervous.

“You’re not in a situation where people in Washington and Brussels are asking, ‘Whose side is Turkey on?’ But one or two more big negative decisions, and you’ll be there,” said Marc Pierini, a former European Union ambassador to Ankara who is now at the Carnegie Endowment in Brussels.

Exhibit A is Ankara’s plan to buy a $3.4 billion national missile-defense system produced by China Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp., a company sanctioned by the U.S. multiple times since 2003—most recently in 2013 for violating a nonproliferation act targeting Iran, North Korea and Syria. Mr. Erdogan picked China over vehement NATO objections because its offer was cheaper and promised more technology transfers than bids from Western companies Raytheon,RTN1.25%Lockheed MartinLMT-0.26% and Eurosam (though Ankara says the bid from Franco-Italian Eurosam could be revived if the China deal falls through).

“No one else is giving up their technology to Turkey,” a Turkish defense industries official said.

“They don’t want a strong Turkey,” Mr. Erdogan said as he opened weapons manufacturer Aselsan ASASELS0.73%’s Radar and Electronic War Center in Ankara in March, referring to the West. “Supposedly these are countries that we cooperate with, that we are together with in NATO.”

The Chinese deal is risky. Western officials and analysts say the technology is outdated and couldn’t be integrated into NATO’s defense shield. That would increase Turkey’s vulnerability as Syria’s government deploys Scud missiles against rebels, these people said.

Turkish officials have sent mixed signals on the matter. Defense Minister Ismet Yildiz has said Turkey is seeking to build an independent national missile-defense system that wouldn’t be integrated with NATO. But the presidency’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, recently said the Chinese system can be integrated while protecting Beijing from spying on NATO—something the alliance rejects. “It is out of the question for the missile system not to be NATO compatible,” Mr. Kalin said.

But a Chinese system also would undermine a 2010 NATO initiative for members to collectively build a ballistic missile-defense system to protect the whole alliance.

“This sort of missile defense capability as such will reduce efficiency, harming the integrated approach that today’s threat environment invariably necessitates,” according to the Turkish authors of a mid-March report published by the German Marshall Fund, an American think tank. While alliance members can purchase weapons as they see fit, Ms. Romero said, “In general, it is important for NATO that the capabilities allies acquire can operate together.”

Monday, April 20, 2015

Unions and national progressive groups went some distance to nationalize the Chicago campaign by aggressively backing Emanuel's opponent: Lessons From Chicago for Clinton’s Candidacy - Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s runoff-election victory could provide insight into how to woo progressives in 2016

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign is billed as a test of how the Democratic Party’s centrist, establishment machine will do in pacifying a progressive wing unhappy with her ties to financial interests and hungry for some alternative.

In fact, a test of that very struggle was conducted just this month. The setting was the mayor’s race in Chicago, where incumbent Rahm Emanuel—veteran of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and White House, and inheritor of the Clinton family’s inclination to build bridges to the financial community—was challenged by an unabashed liberal, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner.

Like Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Emanuel was the object of deep skepticism on his party’s left—a skepticism that in his case ranged up to outright hostility. The skepticism was born both of what he had done and what he had failed to do while in office. On top of substantive disputes, his record of maintaining good ties—and a hefty donor base—among Chicago’s business and financial leaders was seen as both a sign and cause of misplaced priorities.

Unlike Mrs. Clinton thus far, Mr. Emanuel also faced a real, live opponent, who became the vessel for all that progressive angst and anger.

Result? Mr. Emanuel won easily, 56% to 44%, in a runoff election on April 7. He won the white vote handily but also every African-American ward in the city, despite intense unhappiness there over his closure of almost 50 schools. He won in wards heavily represented by officers of the police and fire departments, despite intense controversy over reductions in city pension programs that are running deep in the red. He didn’t win the Hispanic vote, but, while running one-on-one against a Latino foe, won nearly the same share as four years earlier.

How did he do it? In part by running as a kind of modified progressive, one who embraced the same priorities as his party’s liberal wing but with policies moderated enough to prevent scaring off moderates and business interests who would consider a more strident progressive agenda a declaration of class warfare.

In essence, Mr. Emanuel’s pitch was that he was offering working-class, poor and minority voters programs that improved their chances of succeeding without breaking the bank in the process. He terms it a choice between “opportunity-based progressivism” and the liberal wing’s “class-based, resentment-based progressivism.”

There are limits to how much of this story applies to a national presidential campaign, of course. David Axelrod, a friend of Mr. Emanuel’s and a longtime Chicago political operative, cautions that it’s easy to overstate the parallels between a mayor’s race and a national political debate. Mayoral elections tend to be more focused on personalities, competence and local issues than on ideology. “Most Chicagoans were basically measuring these guys as mayors,” Mr. Axelrod says.

Still, unions and national progressive groups went some distance to nationalize the Chicago campaign by aggressively backing Mr. Garcia and seeking to upend Mr. Emanuel. Certainly the mayor was highly vulnerable to attacks from the left. That was largely because of the anger stirred up by his decision to deal with a budget crisis by closing schools, many in African-American communities, and his decision to push for a longer school day. Those moves put him at odds with minority leaders and powerful teacher unions, a spat that became bitterly personal and led to a brief teacher strike.

That alone was enough to set a fire, but additional kindling came from Mr. Emanuel’s famously cozy relations with the moneyed interests of downtown Chicago, and his equally famously abrasive personality. Put it all together and you had the formula for a center-vs.-left conflagration.

Mr. Emanuel tried to douse it by crafting his own version of his progressive credentials, trying to show he embraced the same goals as the movement but with more achievable tactics for moving toward them. He raised the city’s minimum wage (though not as much as progressives wanted). He provided universal full-day kindergarten (though not the universal all-day prekindergarten some wanted).

He also tried to counter the perception that in closing elementary and secondary schools he had undercut his city’s poor and minority students. He did so by emphasizing a different education initiative: a program to waive community college costs for city high school graduates with a B average, a program especially beneficial for minority students.

It worked, in the sense that Mr. Emanuel won with relative ease after an early scare.

For Mrs. Clinton, the lesson may be that it is possible to craft a progressive narrative that is different from, though not necessarily at odds with, the one pushed by those who would rather have Sen. Elizabeth Warren running. Chicago shows Mrs. Clinton ignores Democrats’ new energy on the left at her peril; less clear is whether she, more than Mr. Emanuel, can find a way to actually channel it.

"Morally problemic?" Get real: U.S. Muslim Community Divided Over White House Outreach Plan - Law-enforcement efforts to prevent radicalization provoke both support and suspicion

From The Wall Street Journal:

MISSION VIEJO, Calif.—On a recent Friday in a mosque on the edge of an office park here, congregants filled rows of plastic chairs to hear community leaders discuss the role the White House hopes they will play in a new government effort to fight terrorism.

Instead, what they got was a debate over the proposed law-enforcement outreach to Muslim groups through community events, mentoring and youth programs, which are intended to prevent radicalization and identify extremists. Some Muslim leaders argued the government’s plan unfairly casts suspicion on the entire Muslim community, while others urged involvement as a way for Muslims to have a voice and safeguard their communities.

“We’re being pushed into this law-enforcement framework that’s inappropriate,” said Todd Gallinger, a representative of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, in the mosque discussion. “This is something we need to avoid.”

But Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, encouraged participation, saying, “CVE is a tool.” He added that the community should think about how to “leverage CVE so that our community is seen for what it is—that it is part of the solution and has nothing to do with the problem.”

The rift playing out in the Orange County mosque and elsewhere demonstrates the challenge the Obama administration faces as it attempts to sell its plan, called Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, to the communities crucial to its success. The issue has gained potency with the rise of Islamic State, or ISIS, a violent Islamist group aggressively recruiting young Westerners.

On Monday, the U.S. charged six Minnesota men in connection with attempts to join Islamic State, in a case involving one of the largest groups of potential foreign fighters. Minneapolis, with the country’s largest Somali immigrant population, is one of three pilot cities meant to test CVE programs before they are rolled out on a larger scale. Federal officials said the test cities, which include Boston and Los Angeles, were chosen because of strong existing relationships between the Muslim communities and law enforcement.

Government officials and supporters of the program say it isn’t a spy or intelligence-gathering mission. They note it was developed with the input of Muslim leaders from across the country, with an emphasis on mental health, social services and community-style policing, according to an administration official.

The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, an umbrella group, said earlier this year that the CVE singles out Muslims for law-enforcement scrutiny, which it called “constitutionally questionable and morally problematic.”

“We have concerns about any program that might violate civil rights, and on the other side, we are very much concerned about individuals falling into the trap of the wrong argument ISIS is putting out there to recruit innocent young people,” said Oussama Jammal, secretary-general of the group. “We’re in a tough position.”

The CVE programs are tailored to specific community needs, administration officials say. For example, many of the Somali immigrant Muslims in Minneapolis struggle with unemployment. Muslim communities in Los Angeles are more economically and ethnically diverse, and new immigrants often have trouble finding social and health services. In Boston, a college town that draws a diverse Muslim student population, the program could include psychologists to work with young people.

Federal officials are meeting with Muslims groups across the country to discuss the program, the administration official said.

Already, more than two dozen religious and civil-rights groups have publicly opposed or criticized CVE, including the American Civil Liberties Union, CAIR, Muslim Advocates and New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, as well as some Muslim student associations and Muslim religious leaders. Some say they fear that the plan may include surveillance of Muslims.

Despite the criticism, government officials say many Muslim communities have embraced the program, such as in Denver and Detroit, especially in the wake of more high-profile prosecutions of young people from the U.S. attempting to join Islamic State.

“People are really worried about” ISIS recruitment, said an administration official. “So if Muslim American groups are concerned, that’s not the government singling them out. That’s the government responding to their needs.”

Another administration official recalled that in meetings with Muslim leaders at the White House earlier this year, President Barack Obama said that “there have been cases in the past that made the community more mistrustful, and said that’s why it’s so important for the community to be more involved.”

“The core of this program is building healthy and resilient communities, promoting civic participation,” said Joumana Silyan-Saba of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, who worked on L.A.’s CVE. Law enforcement has a role, she said, but the program also calls for beefing up social services for immigrant families.

That hasn’t been enough for some Muslims, who point to high-profile instances of surveillance in the past decade, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant in Orange County, Calif.

In the latter case, Craig Monteilh, a convicted check forger, said in court documents that the FBI hired him to pose as a Muslim and spy on mosques in the area. The FBI said it used him as a “confidential human source,” but didn’t detail his actions in court documents. An FBI spokeswoman said the FBI doesn’t target any individual or group based on religion.

Metra Salem, a 36-year-old mother of three and the daughter of Afghan immigrants, said she supports the Obama plan. “I want my kids to be part of this country. I’m tired of this victim-minority-group, marginalization narrative,” she said.

Mohannad Malas, a member of the mosque’s board, said he hadn’t heard enough to come to conclusions. His mosque regularly hosts visits from local law enforcement and city officials, he said, adding, “We have nothing to hide.”

But Mr. Malas cited the visit years ago by an official from the FBI’s Los Angeles office. “He told us that he thinks of our community as the solution, and after that visit, we felt part of the solution,” Mr. Malas said. “Turns out, they were planting an informant [Mr. Monteilh].”