Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dennis Hastert, a Coward to the End

A very successful man is finally held to some account for his years of craven actions.

By Michael Daly
The Daily Beast
April 28, 2016

Every sex abuse victim ever scared into silence is in debt to the man who had only been publicly known as Individual D until he rose to speak at the sentencing of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

Individual D identified himself as 53-year-old Scott Cross and proceeded to describe how he had become one of five teens Hastert molested while coaching an Illinois high school wrestling team.

“I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then and the pain and suffering he has caused me today,” Cross said. “As deeply painful as it has been to discuss with my family and with you, staying silent for years was worse. It is important to tell the truth about what happened to me.”

Reporters in the Chicago courtroom on Wednesday noted that Cross’s voice quaked and that he verged on tears as he detailed what happened to him after he found himself alone with Hastert in a locker room four decades ago.

“As a 17-year-old boy, I was devastated,” Cross said. “I tried to figure out why Coach Hastert had singled me out. I felt intense pain, shame, and guilt.”

Among those present at the hearing was the victim’s older brother. Tom Cross had been a political protégée of Dennis Hastert and had risen to become the Republican leader of the Illinois state House of Representatives.

The elder Cross is said to have had no idea that his mentor was a monster until after Hastert was charged last year with banking violations related to money the former speaker had been paying to someone still known only as Individual A.

Only on learning of the indictment had Scott Cross told his family that he was himself a victim of Hastert. The younger Cross’s continuing anguish affirmed the elder Cross’s wisdom in supporting a 2013 bill to end the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of children in Illinois; there clearly were no time limitations on the trauma.

Legislators who joined in voting the measure into law included Jim Durkin, the present Republican leader. Durkin is the brother of Illinois federal Judge Thomas Durkin, the very one who was now preparing to sentence Hastert.

But the lifting of the the statute of limitations was not retroactive. Sex abuse of children back in the time of Hastert’s predations was subject to the same three-year statute of limitations as felonies in general.

That did not stop Judge Durkin from describing in clearest terms this man who had gone from wrestling coach to state representative to U.S. representative to speaker of the house, for eight years—the longest tenure of any Republican—second in the line of succession to the presidency.

“The defendant is a serial child molester,” Durkin said

Durkin was equally clear about the larger crimes for which Hastert could not be be charged.

“There’s nothing ambiguous about this,” Durkin said. “This is child molestation. This is sexual abuse.”

At a previous hearing, the judge had noted that when FBI agents approached Hastert about a series of large cash withdrawals he had told them that he was the subject of a shakedown by a former student who was threatening to go public with a false accusation of sex abuse.

Durkin had rightly taken that to mean Hastert had sought to save himself by further victimizing someone he had already victimized, causing this doubly wronged man to suffer “the full weight of the federal government’s resources” and possibly go to prison on false extortion charges.

As Durkin now prepared to send Hastert to prison, the judge had been given a sentencing memorandum prepared by the prosecution. The document notes, “Defendant’s history and characteristics are marred by stunning hypocrisy. When reflecting on his days coaching high school wrestling, defendant wrote, ‘There’s never sufficient reason to try to strip away another person’s dignity.’ ... Yet that is exactly what defendant did to his victims. He made them feel alone, ashamed, guilty and devoid of dignity.”

The memorandum goes on, “While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them. Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them. The incidents of sexual abuse occurred at a time in their lives when they stood on the beginning edge of sexual maturity. It is profoundly sad that one of their earliest sexual experiences was in the form of abuse by a man whom they trusted and whom they revered as a mentor and coach.”

With eloquent outrage, the memorandum concludes, “The actions at the core of this case took place not on the defendant’s national public stage but in his private one-on-one encounters in an empty locker room and a motel room with minors that violated the special trust between those young boys and their coach.”

The defense had also submitted a sentencing memorandum, noting Hastert’s years of public service. The document does not mention that Hastert failed to take any action at all when he was repeatedly informed that Rep. Mark Foley had been making improper advances to congressional pages. Hastert had, however, been very quick to join those who called for President Clinton’s impeachment during the scandal involving an intern who was not underage. Hastert had allowed that Clinton was “very able and very capable and very intelligent.”

“But he is also, as we all know, immoral,” Hastert then added.

The defense papers further fail to mention that the $1.7 million paid to the doubly victimized Individual A was money from Hastert’s successful efforts to cash in on his former status in Washington.

How appropriate it is that Hastert’s first stumble toward justice came as the result of a law he helped pass while in Congress. A bank teller who queried him about his numerous large withdrawals of cash cited the Patriot Act’s requirement that the movement of all sums of $10,000 or more be reported.

“Defendant stated that he was aware of the law, but that the Patriot Act was just for terrorism and he (defendant) was not a terrorist,” the government sentencing memorandum reports.

Hastert tried to explain the withdrawals with a series of lies to the bank and to the FBI, saying variously that he was collecting antique cars, investing in stocks and simply putting the dough in a “safe place.” He finally told them that he was being extorted and went so far as to help the FBI record phone conversations with the supposed extortionist.

The problem for Hastert was that the extortionist did not sound like one. The FBI eventually discovered the truth and identified five former students who had been victimized by Hastert. One, Stephen Reinboldt, had since died. His sister, Jolene Burdge, spoke at the sentencing, describing a life that had been irretrievably shattered. She recalled what he had said when he eventually confided in her and she asked why he had kept silent.

“Who is ever going to believe me?”

Hastert had the temerity to attend her bother’s funeral and Burdge had confronted him in the parking lot. Hastert had just stared at her. She too had been left feeling that nobody would ever believe her.

The government sentencing memorandum suggests that Hastert later paid those large sums of cash to Individual A because “defendant knew that if his molestation of Individual A became public, it would increase the chance that other former students he molested would tell their stories. Defendant also knew from his interactions with Jolene Burdge at her brother’s funeral years earlier that she had been deeply affected by what defendant did to her brother, and she was likely to tell her story publicly if anyone would listen.”

If Hastert was not exactly a terrorist, he certainly was somebody who had been counting on fear to keep his victims silent. His was the hope of all sex abusers who prey on children.
And that made Scott Cross all the more a true hero as he stepped forward and addressed the court.

He was joined by Burdge, who was speaking for her deceased brother. She called on Hastert at least to admit what he had done.

“Don’t be a coward, Mr. Hastert,” she said. “Tell the truth.”

But Hastert remained his cowardly and craven self, seeking to hedge on the unhedgeable.

“I mistreated some of my athletes that I coached,” he said. “I’m deeply ashamed to be standing before you today.”

The judge pressed him.

“So you did sexually abuse him?” the judge asked.

“Yes,” Hastert said.

But because of the statute of limitations law that Scott Cross’s brother and Judge Durkin’s brother helped pass is itself limited to 2013 on, Hastert could only be charged with a relatively minor financial violation and with lying to a federal agent.

The prosecution felt it could ask only for a term of zero to six months recommended by the probation department as part of a plea deal—made to spare a victim who wished to remain anonymous from having to testify.

The defense asked for probation, no time at all.

The judge had likely made up his mind before Scott Cross rose to speak. But Cross’s words unquestionably affirmed the judge’s view that Hastert is a serial child molester. And it made the judge seem all the more right in sentencing Hastert to 15 months, not much for a sexual abuser of children, but a significant term for moving your own money around.

Earlier in the two-hour hearing, the lead prosecutor, Steven Brock, had been speaking to Burdge and all the victims when he said,

“We do believe you. You do not stand alone.”

The judge now repeated that assurance directly to Burdge and a Chicago Tribune reporter noted that she mouthed a thank you. The judge also addressed Scott Cross.

“Incredible courage,” the judge said.

Scott Cross left the courtroom with his brother. Tom Cross had once been the protégé of a man who proved to be a monster, but he now has a brother who has proven a worthy model for everybody. The Cross family later released a statement.

“We are very proud of Scott for having the courage to relive this very painful part of his life in order to ensure that justice is done today. We hope his testimony will provide courage and strength to other victims of other cases of abuse to speak out and advocate for themselves.”

Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Is Cheap Oil Easing China's Energy Fears?

Not all Chinese energy experts emphasize security fears.

The National Interest
April 28, 2016

A variety of hypotheses have been offered to explain Beijing’s rapid buildup of several large runways on reefs in the southern part of the South China Sea. One analysis appearing in the Chinese naval magazine Modern Ships (现代舰船), the August B 2015 edition, published a translation of a Japanese report pitching the novel theory that these airstrips were necessary for Chinese bombers to strike Australia since US forces will be increasingly basing “down under.” A favorite explanation of most Western China-watchers, to be sure, is the notion that the Chinese government faces problems at home, including the slowing economy, and so is playing the Chinese nationalism card by taking a hardline approach to this maritime dispute.

Not to be forgotten, there is additionally the nuclear-strategy explanation (and I’m not referring to reports of mobile, ship-based nuclear-power plants that seems to me quite far-fetched), which holds that China’s nascent force of nuclear-armed “boomer” submarines requires a potent shield of ships and aircraft to cover their egress into the wider Pacific for deterrent patrols. A closely related argument to the so-called “bastion” explanation, suggest that Beijing seeks more generally to enhance its security by dominating the “near seas.” Then, there is the material explanation—that China simply covets the protein (fish) and hydrocarbons—from the contested sea area. That argument has never been particularly persuasive since the quantity of either fish or hydrocarbons to be gained would amount to a drop in the bucket compared to aggregate Chinese demand.

However, the material or economic explanation may make more sense if viewed in the wider context of China’s energy-security problem, encompassing the so-called “Malacca Dilemma.” Indeed, a report by China’s military in 2014 concluded: “The extremely high dependence on foreign [sources of supply] together with the single maritime route severely threatens our country’s energy import security …” [严重威胁着我国能源进口安全]. This is not the first time this column has drawn attention to concerns in Chinese military circles with respect to the security of the “’Indian Ocean—Malacca Strait—South China Sea’ maritime route” [印度洋—马六甲海峡—南中国海航线]. However, given major changes in the global energy market, it seems wise to reengage with Chinese perspectives on energy security. This Dragon Eye column, therefore, will focus on a late 2015 appraisal entitled “The New Global Energy Landscape and China’s Policy” that was published as a “national social science fund project” in the Chinese journal Northeast Asia Forum [东北亚论坛].

This analysis surveying the “new energy landscape” begins by discussing the reasons for energy prices reaching their apex in 2010–13, citing both the Arab Spring and also Japan’s nuclear disaster as providing simultaneous impetus to demand while constricting supply. A major reason for the 2014 oil-price collapse, according to this Chinese analysis, was the “U.S. shale oil and gas revolution” [美国页岩油气革命], and obviously OPEC’s reluctance to decrease production. Of course, slowing demand has also been a major factor, and this study directly cites China’s slowing rate of oil demand growth in recent years. Overall, this analysis emphasizes the tendency of “production centers moving west and consumption centers moving east” [生产中心西移,消费中心东移]. Perhaps some Chinese jealousy is evident in the authors’ description of the American shale oil/gas revolution as a “US successful ‘counterattack’” [美国成功’逆袭’] that forms a significant part of the new energy landscape.

The authors warn somewhat ominously that oil and gas has become a political tool and even a “weapon” [武器] in the struggle among the great powers. Interestingly, however, the analysis emphasizes an emerging “power vacuum” [权利真空] in the Middle East due to Washington’s continuous reducing of its role there. Iran’s rise as a possible “new hegemon” has sparked an intense struggle and these analysts view Saudi Arabia’s principle goal in severely depressing oil prices is to reduce the influence of Iran (and also Iraq). Of course, they also identify the growing price war between Saudi and US oil producers and highlight the new “rift” [罅隙] between Riyadh and Washington. Another major feature of the new energy landscape, according to this Chinese analysis, is that Russia is leaning eastward. The authors discuss projects that may allow export of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe in order to reduce dependence on Moscow. At the same time, they underscore the major importance of the thirty-year gas export agreement signed in 2014 between China and Russia as an example of the significant opportunities presented to the Middle Kingdom by the new energy landscape.

In the final reckoning, this analysis seems to present Beijing as a kind of “kid in the candy store,” as it grapples with the meaning of very low prices of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. While undoubtedly bad news for environmentalists, of course, the point is made emphatically that the dragon remains very thirsty for oil and gas despite a slowing economy, accounting as it does for about 22 percent of total world energy consumption, according to this study. Also noted in this report is that 59.5 percent of oil and gas consumed in China in 2014 was imported from overseas. In addition to helping cement ties between Beijing and Moscow, the Middle East is identified as a region of continuing vital importance to China. In order to further develop China’s ties with Arab countries in the context of the “one belt, one road” [中阿共建一带一路] strategy, initiatives involving trade, investment, nuclear power, “new energy” and space satellites are to follow the lead after the major initiatives in oil and gas in a so-called “1+2+3” cooperative structure.

Interestingly, a similar emphasis in the conclusion is placed on Chinese efforts to buy stakes in North American shale gas and oil operations, including Chesapeake, Syncrude, and also Nexen. The authors note Chinese concern regarding politicization of these acquisitions and observe that it is difficult to gain public trust in these settings. However, they counsel against a strategy of “quiet acquisitions” [默默地买卖] and instead argue that Beijing needs an “open and transparent” energy strategy.

One striking aspect of the Chinese analysis discussed above is that it is relatively innocuous. There is no mention in the entire article of the so-called “Malacca Dilemma,” [马六甲困局] nor any link between China’s energy strategy and its naval buildup. On that point, it is interesting to note that rising academic strategist Prof. Hu Bo of Peking University wrote in 2015 that protecting China’s sea-borne energy imports is not a “secondary priority” [次重要] or “important” [重要] for Beijing, but rather now represents a “core interest” [核心利益] for China on par with unification with Taiwan. So it seems from these writings that Chinese specialists continue to debate among hawks and doves with respect to China’s energy strategy and its national-security implications. Washington may wish to act prudently and thus avoid tilting this crucial debate in Beijing in a bellicose direction.

Article Link to the National Interest:

Bank of Japan Finds It Can't Win

By Mohamed A. El-Erian
The Bloomberg View
April 28, 2016

Pity the Bank of Japan. Disappointed by the central bank's decision at Thursday’s policy meeting to delay further stimulus measures, markets pushed the yen higher, making exports less competitive, and drove share prices lower, which damped animal spirits. This makes the prospects for a recovery of Japanese growth even dimmer.

Yet these reactions are similar to those of a few weeks ago, when the central bank surprised markets with its activism, taking policy rates into nominal negative territory.

Although it is unfamiliar in advanced economies, this seemingly inconsistent market behavior is quite common in emerging economies where policy ineffectiveness is a concern. And it speaks to an important reality: Among the systemically important central banks, the Bank of Japan has come closest to the line that separates effective policy measures from ineffective, if not counter-productive ones.

Central bank stimulus is one of the three “arrows” that the Japanese government said it would use in a renewed effort to decisively pull the economy out of two decades of economic stagnation. In practice, however, considerable central bank activism -- in the form of negative interest rates and large-scale asset purchases (both in magnitude and coverage) -- has been accompanied by inconsistent implementation of fiscal actions and insufficient structural reforms.

As the other two arrows failed to fully materialize, the Bank of Japan decided earlier this year to experiment further with unconventional monetary policy. But its attempts produced counter-intuitive results, including an appreciation of the yen even as interest-rate differentials and asset purchases were widening compared with the rest of the world. The result was to expose the central bank to considerable public questioning, in particular through the political process.

In such an environment, it is understandable that officials decided on Thursday to hold off further policy activism. But in doing so, they find themselves in a Catch-22 of contributing to anti-growth asset-price movements seemingly regardless of what they do or don't do.

Such a policy outcome is rare in advanced economies, where policy credibility and institutional robustness are taken as givens. After all, central banks in these economies can even affect outcomes through verbal intervention, including the deployment of the all-powerful “whatever it takes” mantra.

These kinds of results are far more common in emerging economies where policy credibility and institutional strengths aren't established. That often is demonstrated when central banks lose control of the currency -- most in the context of disorderly depreciations -- almost regardless of their interest rate actions.

The Bank of Japan’s policy predicament should be monitored very closely by other central banks, starting with the European Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China -- which, along with the Federal Reserve, have been forced to rely on the prolonged use of unconventional policy actions and forward guidance to keep their economies humming in the absence of a comprehensive policy response.

The market response on Thursday highlights the urgent need for a policy handoff -- away from over-reliance on central banks and toward measures that involve pro-growth structural reforms, a rebalancing of aggregate demand, addressing pockets of over-indebtedness and improving regional and global policy coordination.

The advanced world already has experienced one unpleasant set of circumstances that is more common to emerging economies: structural rather than cyclical headwinds to economic recovery. Now some of these developed economies may be about to experience another unfamiliar form of disruption. The Bank of Japan’s evolving experience should serve as an important warning sign that central banks should take seriously the risk of growing policy ineffectiveness.

Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Democrats Pay High Price for Liberal Smugness

By Ramesh Ponnuru
The Bloomberg View
April 28, 2016

Emmett Rensin wants his fellow liberals to stop being so condescending.

In an essay for Vox, he dissects what he calls “the smug style in American liberalism.” It is a strain of liberalism that attributes disagreement with its tenets to stupidity and ignorance, and responds to that disagreement with mockery. It delights in evidence, however dubious, that liberals are intellectually superior to conservatives.

He believes that this style has weakened liberalism. But while his analysis is commendably large-hearted, it misses more than it sees about liberalism’s flaws.

He presents some good evidence for his thesis. Remember how, a few months ago, a Democratic pollster found that 30 percent of Republican voters favored bombing Agrabah? It’s the kingdom in the movie "Aladdin." Liberals sneered, as he notes. Rensin attributes the result to Americans’ excessive willingness to trust pollsters. That’s charitable, and accurate: A Republican polling firm later found that 44 percent of Democrats favored taking in refugees from the same fictional country.

Rensin believes that this smugness has helped to alienate poor and working-class white voters from liberalism, and liberals from these voters. People won’t vote for a politics that considers them to be hicks and rubes. Thus, he argues, liberals have failed to win votes that would help them deliver an anti-poverty agenda.

More provocatively, he thinks they have grown less interested in fighting poverty as they have become more contemptuous of the poor. They have traded labor unions for Silicon Valley, coal country for finance. Liberalism has become both less persuasive and less idealistic as a result of its conceit.

The ridicule directed at Kim Davis, the Kentucky official who refused to issue wedding licenses under her name in order to avoid doing so for same-sex couples, is one of Rensin’s examples. Some liberals celebrated her imprisonment, attacked her appearance and made fun of her sexual history. Liberals, he writes, should “instead wonder what it might be like to have little left but one’s values; to wake up one day to find your whole moral order destroyed; to look around and see the representatives of a new order call you a stupid, hypocritical hick without bothering, even, to wonder how your corner of your poor state found itself so alienated from them in the first place.”

Rensin isn’t pleading for civility, he tells us. What he wants is “class struggle,” and greater respect for working-class whites is necessary for it.

This argument is not fully persuasive. Given the political constraints, Democrats have done as much as they could to help unions and, by their lights, to help the poor. White working-class skepticism about Democrats, meanwhile, may have more to do with disagreements than with disrespect.

But more respect would be worthwhile anyway. Every political tradition needs adherents who will warn against its vices. Contemporary liberalism may be especially prone to writing off its opponents. In a 2012 article, a trio of social psychologists found that liberals had a less accurate perception of the moral views of conservatives than conservatives had of liberals. One of the authors, Jonathan Haidt, suggests over email that liberals and conservatives increasingly view each other through the stereotypes that have traditionally divided city and country folk. The urban stereotype of the rural is that they’re mired in idiocy.

If liberals resist that stereotype, they may find themselves going further than Rensin does. Liberalism’s defensive sneer, he writes, is “dressed up as a monopoly on reason.” But if liberalism has no such monopoly, then perhaps liberals need to do more than “examine our own methods of persuasion” -- which is what he suggests. Maybe they need to consider that some of their views are mistaken, and that the conservatives they disdain are sometimes right, even if they are working class and rural.

Maybe the economic problems of the working poor are not the result, as Rensin writes, of three decades of Republican efforts to replace “every labor law with a photo of Ronald Reagan's face.” Maybe there was a way to let Kim Davis act on her conscience without causing any harm to anyone else, as her state’s conservative Republican governor concluded.

The great virtue that contemporary liberalism lacks and needs is neither civility nor solidarity. It’s humility -- and sadly, even some of liberalism’s most thoughtful internal critics can’t see it.

Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

How Will We Vet Syrian Refugees?

By Michael Rubin
April 28, 2016

What has transpired in Syria is a humanitarian disaster. There are now more refugees or displaced people than at any time since World War II. Current policy both in the United States and the broader international community focuses more on the symptom (addressing refugee flow) rather than the disease (the deliberate targeting of civilians by various combatants), but reality also requires providing services to and likely resettling refugees who in all likelihood will never be able to go home.

President Obama has said he hopes to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States this fiscal year, although so far it has admitted a fraction. Some of this has to do with bureaucratic hurdles, and some to changing public attitudes in the wake of the Paris and Brussels attacks. Plans are reportedly afoot, however, to tweak definitions and change by fiat some regulations in order to admit as many as 200,000 displaced Syrians.

The humanitarian desire to provide refuge to Syrians fleeing a horrific war is understandable although, as Jonathan Tobin points out, the overwrought analogies to the refugee flight ahead of the Holocaust is not exactly accurate.

Those who criticize the entry of Syrian refugees question the ability to vet. After all, the U.S. government can’t even get airport screening right and, while U.S. officials assure that all refugees will be vetted, it’s unclear exactly how this will occur given first the linguistic deficit among the intelligence community in the United States and second the lack of any partners in Damascus. Will those investigating potential immigrants simply send their requests to Syrian security officials in Kafr Sousa, the neighborhood in Damascus where the security forces and intelligence are headquartered?

The problem is even broader, however. Even if it was possible to vet, what will be the criteria for vetting? Consider the photographs of “Caesar,” who defected from Syria with thousands of photos depicting regime torture. Caesar was a military photographer, but he was not alone. Rather, he was part of a large bureaucracy of repression that reflects the Syrian regime’s paranoia. Simply put, the Syrian government doesn’t trust its own operatives and so photographers exist to document that every order is carried out lest one bureaucrat accuse another of not carrying out orders. So here’s the question U.S. policymakers must address: Who is guilty of torture? The policeman with the truncheon, the interrogator with the electrodes, the officials who bring prisoners to and from interrogation rooms, or the photographers documenting their actions? The corollary to this argument is who is guilty of terrorism, the person carrying out suicide attacks or those enabling him or cheering him on?

The White House and Congress can debate such how many Syrians to welcome and resettle and how effective vetting is, but those questions should be only one part of the debate. As important is the criteria for vetting and, on that issue, the administration and Congress remain distressingly silent.

Article Link to Commentary:

Five Reasons Why Virginia Senator Tim Kaine Will Win Hillary’s Veepstakes

He’s safe, experienced, and uncontroversial.

By Myra Adams 
The National Review
April 28, 2016

It’s been clear since Obama’s reelection that Hillary Clinton would run for the White House in 2016, and the speculation over her running mate has been going on almost as long. For instance, on this site in May 2014 I penned the piece “Kaine Is Able, and Warner Is Too,” suggesting that both Virginia senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, would be strong VP candidates. It’s no surprise that both have now appeared on the New York Times short list. After considering the pros and cons of each person, I feel confident predicting that Clinton/Kaine will be the Democrats’ 2016 presidential ticket.

Here are the five reasons upon which that prediction is based.

1. Tim Kaine is the safest choice

With Donald Trump edging closer to becoming the Republican presidential nominee, a Clinton-vs.-Trump general-election campaign is on track to be the most brutal in modern history. As a counterbalance, Mrs. Clinton will pick a safe, boring, dependable running mate — qualified to be president, ready to go from Day 1, and needing no hand-holding. Senator Kaine fits that description because he is ready for prime time, media-savvy, knowledgeable, respected, experienced, and unlikely to generate any personal or professional controversy. Selecting Kaine would free Clinton to focus on fighting Trump with the least amount of hassle from her running mate, in addition to numerous assets that Kaine brings to the ticket.

2. His résumé is perfect for 2016 and beyond

Besides being a low-profile, non-controversial, moderate Democrat, Kaine has executive experience, having served as governor of Virginia from January 2006 to January 2010. (Virginia law allows governors only one four-year term.) Before that, Kaine was lieutenant governor from January 2002 to January 2006.

But here is why Kaine towers over the rest of Hillary’s VP short list: While Kaine was governor of Virginia, president-elect Obama appointed him chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Kaine held that position from January 21, 2009, to April 5, 2011, and emerged unscathed even though Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives during Kaine’s reign. (President Obama’s policies took the hit, and rightly so.)

As DNC chairman, Kaine gained tremendous media exposure along with national campaigning and fundraising experience. In 2016, all that experience adds up to one of Kaine’s greatest assets — his established relationships with national, state, and local party leaders and, most important, the donor class. Kaine, as a known quantity within the Democratic party, is uniquely positioned to help unite the party after a contentious primary. Furthermore, because he is considered a moderate, Kaine could help swing Hillary back from the Bernie-left to the center-left.

Kaine was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012 and is up for reelection in 2018. If Clinton loses, Kaine will head back to the Senate as the 2020 presidential front-runner. And if Clinton is elected president but in 2020 forgoes a second term due to age or health reasons, then Kaine will be ready to step up to the plate.

3. His geographic and personal story has party-base and general appeal

Kaine represents the swing state of Virginia, and its 13 electoral votes are considered a must-win for Republicans. Democrats could lose Virginia and still easily reach the 270 needed to win, but with Kaine on the ticket, Virginia is more likely to remain blue — its color in 2008 and 2012.

In an election year in which winning the Hispanic vote will be a key to victory, Kaine is fluent in Spanish. He learned the language working as a Catholic missionary in Honduras while taking a break from Harvard Law School. The potential for Democratic general-election identity-group hoopla far outweighs the fact that Kaine is a 58-year-old white male. If the angry Left cries “white privilege,” Kaine will remind them that his father was a welder who owned a small ironworking shop in the Kansas City, Mo., area, where Kaine was raised after being born in St. Paul, Minn.

If blue-collar roots do not placate the Left, perhaps this will: According to Wikipedia, “Kaine practiced law in Richmond for 17 years, specializing in representing people who had been denied housing opportunities because of their race or disability.”

With Kaine as her running mate, Hillary has many Democratic-party bases covered.

4. In 2014 Kaine played the Clinton loyalty card, overcompensating for 2008

A huge problem that Kaine has tried to overcome is proving loyalty to the Clintons. It started in February of 2007, when, as governor of Virginia, Kaine became the first governor outside of Illinois to endorse Senator Barack Obama for president. Because of his early endorsement, Kaine was on Obama’s VP short list in 2008. But in 2008 Obama needed a running mate with more experience than Kaine had at the time. As a consolation prize, Obama appointed Kaine to be DNC chairman. But in May of 2014, Kaine wasted no time endorsing Hillary for president in 2016. Obviously he was trying to compensate for dissing her in 2008, and so far it looks like he has succeeded.

5. Kaine can handle the Bill Clinton problem

Whoever the VP nominee may be, that person, if elected, will have an issue with Bill Clinton undermining the vice president’s power. Here is how the New York Times reported this problem for those on Hillary’s short list:

"Advisers said that in the current search, Mrs. Clinton wants a running mate who would accept and appreciate that Mr. Clinton, as a former president, would offer expertise and guidance — and perhaps play a formal role on specific issues — if she were president."

Translation: Warning to VP short list — the “Big Dog” will be free to roam, jump on your desk, and pee on your papers.

But compared with some others on the Times short list, Kaine is a seasoned political pro more likely to “accept and appreciate” Bill and less likely to be intimidated when the former president “offers expertise and guidance.”

Finally, when the Clintons pick Hillary’s running mate, they will remember that old adage of VP selection: “First, do no harm.” A Clinton/Kaine ticket would emerge ready to battle a new, powerful, unpredictable guerrilla force with no rules or boundaries.

Article Link to the National Review:

Trump’s Followers Aren’t Interested in ‘Winning’ — They Want Heads to Roll

By Ian Tuttle 
The National Review
April 28, 2016

There will be blood.

On Tuesday night, Donald Trump swept the “Acela Corridor” primaries — Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island — and made it more likely than ever that he will be the Republican nominee. Next week’s Indiana primary is now truly a must-win contest for Ted Cruz. (It’s never a good sign when an event is being touted as your “Alamo.”) And even if Cruz can keep Trump from winning the nomination outright, taking the nomination from him at a contested convention is now far more difficult.

But on Wednesday morning, Trump fans had pitchforks poised. Early in the day, Breitbart editor John Nolte, the Walter Duranty of pro-Trump propagandists, tweeted: “If Trump loses to Hillary . . . I will forever blame #NeverTrump,” referring to the movement of conservatives who have said they will not vote for Donald Trump in a general election under any circumstances. As a matter of psephology, he’s not wrong: Donald Trump will lose if people don’t vote for him. That’s how elections work. But as electoral strategy, Nolte is not exactly winning friends and influencing people.

Consider as evidence the rest of his Twitter timeline, which is a running tirade against Trump opponents, variously described as “saboteurs,” “supremacists,” and “vote-thieves” suffering an acute case of “prideful butthurt.” In typical conspiracy-mongering fashion, Nolte says #NeverTrump adherents have “allied with Dems and MSM [the mainstream media] to destroy Trump in General” “to keep their spot at the trough,” or, elsewhere, to “retain their $$.”

It requires staggering self-deception to place the blame for a Trump general-election defeat anywhere except where it would belong: squarely on the shoulders of Donald Trump. It’s not on account of a Twitter hashtag that the average polling spread for the last month has Clinton winning by 8.5 points, or that only five head-to-head polls in the last year projected that Trump would run better than Clinton (and even then only modestly). It’s not because of a handful of vocal conservatives that Trump’s unfavorable ratings started, when he announced last June, at 68 percent — and that they are at nearly the same place now. That’s on Donald Trump.

And so would be a loss in November. Trump has unprecedented name recognition. He’s garnered some $1.9 billion in free publicity during this presidential cycle — more than six times as much as his closest competitor (Cruz). He has “Ten Billion Dollars” at his disposal. Trump has everything he needs to be president. If he can’t do it because there is a group of conservatives who are not interested in rallying around an untrustworthy liberal who mocks the handicapped and calls women “pigs” — isn’t that his problem? Isn’t it Trump’s problem if a whole lot of conservatives think that women shouldn’t be punished for having abortions, that the president of the United states shouldn’t retweet white supremacists, and that American foreign policy shouldn’t be operated like a protection racket? If Donald Trump wants conservative votes, isn’t this job to show that he represents conservatives? And if those conservatives won’t acquiesce, then Trump’s supporters can go out and find other people who will vote for him. That’s also how elections work.

But Trump’s partisans won’t do that — because winning this election is not actually what they’re about. They’re not about “making America great again.” They’re sure as hell not about party unity. They’re about vengeance. They’re about crushing the conservatives they believe have betrayed them. They’re about tying the villains to the tracks and pushing the TrumpTrain™ full-steam ahead.

If Trump is the nominee, it won’t matter what anti-Trump conservatives do leading up to November. If Trump wins, his supporters will trot out the guillotine. If Trump loses, they’ll trot out the guillotine. They just want to see heads roll.

This has been the animating impulse from the beginning. At the heart of the Trump phenomenon is a bloodthirst, and one way or another, there will be blood.

Article Link to the National Review:

Bernie's Next Crusade

By Francis Wilkinson
The Bloomberg View
April 27, 2016

His hour upon the nation's biggest political stage is almost up. The Democratic nomination is receding from his reach. And a 74-year-old doesn't have a lot of presidential runs in his future. So it's time for Senator Bernie Sanders to take stock: What does he want?

Yes, yes, everyone knows -- a revolution. But Sanders is not Lenin and this isn't Russia circa 1917. So what does he really want? He has surprised us all, himself surely included, with the depth and breadth of his support in the Democratic primary. As a result, he has valuable leverage, afforded by millions of votes, and a trove of digital addresses, afforded by his supporters' passion.

Sanders has a few months left to take full advantage of those assets. For himself, he'll want a prime-time slot for a convention speech and a serious role as a surrogate on the campaign trail. For his followers, he'll no doubt have the opportunity to insert some pet peeves into a Democratic platform, for whatever that's worth.

In a statement issued on Tuesday night, after losing four of five states to Clinton, Sanders said he's going "to fight for a progressive party platform that calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage, an end to our disastrous trade policies, a Medicare-for-all health care system, breaking up Wall Street financial institutions, ending fracking in our country, making public colleges and universities tuition free and passing a carbon tax so we can effectively address the planetary crisis of climate change."

Clinton will take what she wants from that list and leave the rest. If she wins the White House, she will be unlikely to offer Sanders a Cabinet post that is worth his while to accept. His challenge will be to remain influential in a party that would be very happy to dispatch him back to obscurity.

Sanders spent a quarter century at the margins of Democratic politics and policy, and at the margins of Washington political culture. Democrats have never treated him as a player in the Senate or the House because he never was a key one. His presence on Sunday mornings was not requested by Washington television hosts. How often did you see Sanders quoted by major news media before 2015?

Now that he's used to being a big deal, he's going to want the campaign treatment to continue. That could be tough.

First, managing a "movement" is harder than running a campaign. After the election of Barack Obama, a group called Organizing for America was supposed to channel his supporters' enthusiasm into support for Obama's agenda. It was mostly a bust. After political campaigns end, supporters tend to drift. They get on with their lives. Pay less attention. Respond to fewer urgent calls to action.

And Sanders, while he has proved to be a compelling figure in Democratic politics, is a long way, in talent and impact and significance, from Obama. Whatever difficulties Obama had maintaining an organization -- as president -- will be multiplied many times for Sanders -- as senator.

As leader of the Democratic Party, Clinton will retain all the institutional, media and political advantages. Sanders, by contrast, not only won't be the leader; he will return to the same institution that houses Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Youth, the foundation of Sanders's political support, is notoriously fickle. And Warren is a shrewd and effective politician. Just because Sanders is the one who jumped into the arena, put in the work, made the sales and banked the votes doesn't mean he will get to be keeper of the flame. Warren, with a single carefully chosen issue, could end up stealing that fire for herself.

If Sanders wants to remain relevant, he may have to fend off Warren while battling Clinton and the Democratic Senate leadership for attention. He's had an uphill fight for the nomination. It isn't over.

Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

How Older Brothers Influence Homosexuality

Homosexuality might be partly driven by a mother’s immune response to her male fetus—which increases with each son she has.

By Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
April 28, 2016

Here’s what we know: Homosexuality is normal. Between 2 and 11 percent of human adults report experiencing some homosexual feelings, though the figure varies widely depending on the survey.

Homosexuality exists across cultures and even throughout the animal kingdom, as the authors of a mammoth new review paper on homosexuality write. Between 6 and 10 percent of rams prefer to mount other rams, not ewes. Certain groups of female Japanese monkeys prefer the company of other females:

In certain populations, female Japanese macaques will sometimes choose other females as sexual partners despite the presence of sexually motivated male mates. Female Japanese macaques will even compete intersexually with males for exclusive access to female sexual partners.

Here’s what we don’t know: What, specifically, causes someone to become gay, straight, or something in between. Part of the explanation is genetic, but since most identical twins of gay people are straight, heredity doesn’t explain everything.

The “why” question is important because “there is a strong correlation between beliefs about the origins of sexual orientation and tolerance of non-heterosexuality,” according to the report authors, who hail from seven universities spanning the globe. Specifically, people who believe sexual orientation is biological are more likely to favor equal rights for sexual minorities. (When Atlantic contributor Chandler Burr proposed in his 1996 book, A Separate Creation, that people are born gay, Southern Baptists called to boycott Disney films and parks in protest against the publisher, Disney subsidiary Hyperion.) It shouldn’t matter whether people “choose” to be gay, but politically, it does—at least for now.

One of the most consistent environmental explanations for homosexuality is called the fraternal birth order effect. Essentially, the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay. The effect doesn't hold for older or younger sisters or younger brothers, or even for adoptive or step-brothers.

According to Ray Blanchard, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, the reason could be that the mother’s body mounts an immune attack on the fetus of her unborn son. As the report authors explain:

"Male fetuses carry male-specific proteins on their Y chromosome, called H-Y antigens. Blanchard hypothesized that some of these antigens promote the development of heterosexual orientation in males ... Because these H-Y antigens are not present in the mother’s body, they trigger the production of maternal antibodies. These antibodies bind to the H-Y antigens and prevent them from functioning."

With the H-Y antigens not functioning, it could be that the “be straight” signal in the fetus’s brain never flicks on.

Blanchard believes this phenomenon grows stronger with each boy a woman bears. Studies have found that a man without older brothers has about a 2 percent chance of being gay, but one with four older brothers has a 6 percent chance. (Meanwhile, other studies have found the relationship to be weak or nonexistent.) As psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams writes in an accompanying commentary, the outcome for any given baby boy might depend on the timing of the immune response and the fetus’s susceptibility to the antibodies.

According to the report, Blanchard now plans to test mothers of gay and straight men for the presence of these antibodies. If proven out, fetal birth order could do a lot to fill in the missing explanations for homosexuality. But there will still be remaining gaps, like why some firstborn sons are gay, why some identical twins of gay sons are straight, and why women are gay, to name just a few.

The review paper authors do rule out one explanation for homosexuality, however: That tolerance for gay people encourages more people to become gay.

“Homosexual orientation does not increase in frequency with social tolerance, although its expression (in behavior and in open identification) may do so,” they write.

That reasoning—that a tolerant society somehow encourages homosexuality to flourish—has been used to support anti-gay legislation in Uganda, Russia, and elsewhere. These laws do marginalize and shame gay people, the authors write. But they won’t do away with a sexual orientation that’s ubiquitous, enduring, and—whether through genes, or hormones, or antibodies—perfectly natural.

Article Link to the Atlantic:

Trump’s foreign-policy speech will please voters — and corner Hillary

By Post Editorial Board
The New York Post
April 28, 2016

Donald Trump’s foreign-policy remarks Wednesday will serve him well with voters: He offered a clear critique of what the nation’s been doing wrong, and promised a new “coherent foreign policy based upon American interests and the shared interests of our allies.”

His “America First” approach is a clear contrast with Hillary Clinton — who embraces the foreign-policy establishment that Trump faults for failing the country.

He started by identifying the key problems: Too few resources, with a weakened military and a weakened US economy. Allies who aren’t stepping up — in part because they no longer trust Washington to have their backs.

Enemies who don’t fear us, and rivals who don’t respect us.

Above all, “America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign-policy goals.” And we haven’t since the end of the Cold War.

All indisputably true.

Along the way, he slammed the Obama-Clinton record of “weakness, confusion and disarray” — while also disavowing the interventionism and naïve nation-building efforts of the Bush years.

He de facto embraced the one aspect of Obama’s policy the public likes: “I will not send our finest into battle unless necessary — and I mean absolutely necessary.”

Again, the contrast with Clinton is obvious: She’s always been more hawkish than Obama; it’s one reason he beat her in 2008. She pushed for the Libya war, and for intervention in Syria that Obama rejected.

Yet Trump will fight “when there is no alternative — but when America fights, it must only fight to win.”

This isn’t isolationism, but a longstanding US tradition that runs from the (Colin) Powell Doctrine all the way to Andrew Jackson.

In the same spirit, and also in stark contrast to Clinton, Trump repudiated mindless internationalism: Enough with agreements that limit the nation’s “ability to control our own affairs.”

His overall goal is “creating stability in the world” — notably in the Middle East.

He wants “a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam” and promises ISIS’s “days are numbered.”

He’ll rebuild the US military and US economy, try for realistic understandings with rivals like Russia and China — and refocus US alliances in Europe and Asia for the challenges of today.

It’s a tall order — but a coherent set of aims.

“We must make America respected again. We must make America truly wealthy again. And we must, we have to and we will make America great again,” he summed up.

“And if we do that, perhaps this century can be the most peaceful and prosperous the world has ever known.”

Game on, Hillary.

Article Link to the New York Post:

Does Trump Guarantee a Dem Senate?

By Jonathan S. Tobin
April 27, 2016

Democrats had good reason to celebrate last night in Pennsylvania. They’re optimistic about being able to beat Donald Trump in November and his landslide victories in the Northeast brought them that much closer to that match up. But the party establishment — both statewide and nationally — also got their wish when Kathleen McGinty won the Democratic nomination for Senate to oppose incumbent Republican Pat Toomey.

Party leaders such as Vice President Joe Biden worked hard to gain McGinty the nod over former admiral and congressman Joe Sestak, who narrowly lost the seat to Toomey in 2010 amid the Tea Party landslide that year. Part of their motivation was their distrust of Sestak, a left-wing free spirit who was not a team player. They even ran ads claiming that a left-winger like Sestak would endanger Social Security. But McGinty, an environmentalist with no experience in elected office, also fits in with their vision of how to win back the Senate from the Republicans. And Donald Trump is essential to their formula for victory.

Pennsylvania is key to the Democrats’ Senate hopes in 2016. Six years after 2010 the GOP has 23 seats up for grabs this year with the Democrats only defending ten. At the moment, Larry Sabato’s generally reliable Crystal Ball website rates the current election as a toss-up in the Senate. Of the 23 Republican seats, 12 are considered safe; three are likely to be held by the GOP and three are leaning in their direction. Two (Wisconsin and Illinois) are likely to be lost to the Democrats. That leaves them at 48. Five — New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are considered tossups.

Democrats have spent six years waiting for another shot at Toomey thinking that he would be easy to beat in a presidential election year where the massive Democratic registration advantage could be utilized. But unlike weaker GOP freshmen like Illinois’ Mark Kirk and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Toomey has tacked a bit to the center on some issues while maintaining his reputation as an intractable fiscal conservative, gaining unexpected popularity. That’s been reflected in polls that showed him winning big against either Sestak or McGinty.

Why then has the race been shifted from likely or leaning Republican to a toss-up? The answer lies in one word: Trump. Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in every presidential election for a generation, but it has often been relatively close. Though Trump clearly has the support of the Republican base — a fact substantiated by his huge win on Tuesday even as Toomey backed Ted Cruz — but polls indicate that in a general election he loses the state to Hillary Clinton in a landslide. As he would elsewhere, Trump loses women by a huge majority. Anger about his stands toward minorities also will generate the kind of turnout that only Barack Obama has generated. That means that Democrats are expecting Trump to both suppress GOP turnout from mainstream Republicans who are disgusted with their party’s likely nominee while hoping that he will also motivate their base in a way their candidate couldn’t accomplish on her own.

Trump’s shot at Clinton last night during his victory speech about Clinton playing “the woman card” and being unable to get five percent if she weren’t the wife of a former president, also feed Democratic optimism about beating Toomey.

To be fair to Trump, he’s right that Clinton’s credibility among female voters is low. Indeed, her political skills are so poor that it’s hard to imagine her winning high office without the leg up she got from being a president’s wife. But fair or not, those remarks feed into the narrative about disdain for women that Trump has created with his vile insults directed at a host of females that dared to challenge him.

So nominating a woman to face Toomey wasn’t just a matter of finding a more pliable Democrat than Sestak. Democrats see McGinty as benefiting from the perception that the GOP doesn’t care about the sort of suburban female voter that Toomey and any Republican needs to prevail in Pennsylvania. Having two women at the topic of their statewide ticket is just what they wanted to make that point.

Nevertheless, no one should count out Toomey. Though he began his political career with a reputation as an ideological hard-liner, he’s proven to be an able politician who understands how to win in a state like Pennsylvania where rural and suburban constituencies can balance out the Democrats’ enormous strength in the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If left on his own, he can beat McGinty. But Toomey’s problem is that if the GOP ticket is led by a man that is regarded as offensive to women, the demographic edge held by the Democrats may be such that no Republican can win statewide in 2016.

If even a strong incumbent like Toomey can be swept away by Trump, Republicans shouldn’t count on any of their other endangered incumbents surviving this year. That means a Democratic Senate that will be able to not only confirm liberal Supreme Court Justices but to rubber-stamp the rest of the Clinton agenda.

These are facts that, as our Noah Rothman wrote earlier, Trump fans prefer to ignore. But as we start to examine each of the crucial races that will decide control of the Senate this year, the Trump factor is the card that Democrats have good reason to expect will bring them victory.

Article Link to Commentary:

‘Good Muslims’ are quietly looking out for all of us

By John Crudele
The New York Post
April 28, 2016

Two Pakistanis now working as cabbies.

A Sudanese guy who fixes flat tires for a living.

A Palestinian woman, formerly married to a guy involved in credit card fraud.

A Lebanese woman who works in a hotel but once made excellent money catering to all the needs of Middle Eastern royalty when they visited New York.

And a Somali guy — perhaps the most daring person I know — who scrounges out a good living doing this and that.

What do these six people have in common? They are, you might say, “good Muslims” who spy on bad Muslims and any other troublemakers who might cross their paths. They live and work in the New York area and regularly tip off law enforcement to wrongdoing.

And they aren’t the only ones.

One of the cabbies — who is a Hindu posing as a Muslim — says he personally knows of at least 10 Muslims who have been keeping their ears and eyes open for potential problems and reporting them to various US government agencies.

The cabby even took a trip to Afghanistan not too long ago to scope things out. He also famously infiltrated a bar in Queens a few years back that is thought to be a notorious hangout for wannabe terrorists.

“They hardly get paid,” the cabbie said of the informants over lunch the other day. (I had asked him about compensation.) He wasn’t complaining.

Some of the informants are in this country illegally or semi-legally and hope their cooperation will get their immigration status upgraded. Others have gotten into minor legal scrapes and only then decided to work with US officials.

I’ve known this cabbie and the other one for a few years now. I spent a lot of time with the Somali guy a few years back but haven’t seen him recently.

And the other day, for the first time, I spoke on the phone with the guy who fixes tires.

As for the two women, I’ve only been told about them by their “handlers,” the people at various levels of US law enforcement to whom they unofficially report.

Most the informers started by unearthing financial crimes. But after 9/11, they began including possible terrorist threats as well.

‘I don’t really care — Muslim, no Muslim. Christian, no Christian. You do something wrong, I come after you.' - informant

What they are doing is courageous as well as dangerous. They need to remain undercover.

For that reason, I’m not using the names of any of the informers — ditto for their handlers. I’ve also had to alter their occupations and their nationalities for the sake of their safety.

Muslim immigration, as you know, is a big topic in this presidential election. Temporary or outright bans have been proposed by at least one candidate, and everyone in the country is on edge about this issue.

Even the “good Muslims” who I’ve mentioned will tell you that there are bad people from their countries who live in the US. And I think they’d agree that some people simply shouldn’t be allowed to enter.

But distinguishing good people from bad people — no matter where they come from — is impossible. So the debate about Muslims coming to the US is likely to continue.

Take this column for what it is: the stories of some Muslims who are on our side. And you can also assume that there are many others I don’t know about.

One of the handlers, now retired from law enforcement, remembers an informant who went to his Brooklyn imam after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to ask if he should cooperate with US authorities. “The imam said, ‘This is your country now,’ ” says the handler.

That man became a very worthwhile source of information on current and potential crimes.

“I like this country,” says the flat-fixer when asked about his motive for being an informant.

During the 9/11 attacks, he was in New York City. “I was asleep. I thought it was a movie,” he said. “That’s when I said, holy [crap], this is crazy.”

His philosophy for turning in bad guys: “I don’t really care — Muslim, no Muslim. Christian, no Christian. You do something wrong, I come after you.”

He’s in this country illegally. Staying put hasn’t been a big problem for him, but he would like to go back to the Middle East to visit his family. Without a visa, he can’t. And that’s why he’s hoping to get a legal immigration status, although that hasn’t been going so well.

“I help out a lot of agencies — the FBI, Homeland [Security] and the police. I don’t get paid for this. I do it for fun,” he told me in a phone interview the other day.

His handler, who works for a federal agency, tells me that the flat-fixer mostly reports financial crimes. Terrorist plots are harder to hear about, although you never know what comes up during conversations.

“Muslims trust their own kind,” says the handler. “Without these people on the street, we don’t have the heads-up. He’s valuable.”

The other handler, who is retired, has his own take: “Nobody with freckles ever infiltrated the Muslim community.”

I hope this column made you feel a little better. Maybe you’ll sleep more soundly tonight.

Now for the bad news. The six informants I mentioned are all in their 40s and 50s. Middle-aged people have a harder time snooping on today’s terrorists, who tend to be younger.

We’d better hope younger Muslims suddenly start taking their place.

Article Link to the New York Post:

North Korea's test of intermediate range missile fails again: South Korea

April 28, 2016

North Korea fired what appeared to have been an intermediate range ballistic missile on Thursday but it crashed seconds after the test launch, South Korea's defense ministry said, the second such failure this month.

A defense ministry official told Reuters that the launch from near the North Korean east coast city of Wonsan appeared to have been of a Musudan missile with a range of more than 3,000 km (1,800 miles), at about 6:40 a.m. local time (2140 GMT).

Isolated North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile launches and tests of military technology in the run-up to a rare congress of its ruling Workers' Party that is set to begin on May 6.

Thursday's apparent failure, however, marks another setback for young leader Kim Jong Un. A similar missile launched on the April 15 birthday of his grandfather and the country's founder, Kim Il Sung, exploded in what the U.S. Defense Department called a "fiery, catastrophic" failure.

South Korea also says the North is ready to conduct a nuclear test at any time. It would be its fifth nuclear test.

The defense ministry official, who declined to be identified by name, said South Korean and U.S. officials were analyzing the cause of the missile crash, declining to comment on why the launch was revealed hours after it took place.

The South's Yonhap News Agency said the fired missile was not detected by South Korean military radar because it did not fly above a few hundred meters, and was spotted by a U.S. satellite.

The South Korean defense ministry told Reuters it could not confirm that report.

On Saturday, North Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which traveled about 30 km (18 miles) off its east coast.

Article Link to Reuters:

Crude oil prices take a breather after hitting 2016 highs


April 28, 2016

Crude futures pulled back from 2016 highs on Thursday as traders locked in profits after April's sharp rally, but analysts said falling U.S. production, strong investor appetite and a weakening dollar could push prices higher soon.

International Brent crude futures were trading at $46.91 per barrel at 0638 GMT, down 27 cents from their last settlement. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were down 20 cents at $45.13 a barrel.

The dips came after both benchmarks rose on Wednesday to their highest levels for 2016 in what has been one of the steepest price increases in recent years. Both Brent and WTI have rallied more than 70 percent since their respective 2016 lows in January and February.

Record crude storage figures may have spurred some investors to take profits on Thursday by closing long positions, traders said, and government data on Wednesday showed that U.S. crude stocks climbed 2 million barrels last week to an all-time peak of 540.6 million barrels.

Despite the price falls, analysts said that sentiment had clearly turned bullish, and that further price rises were likely.

"We ... appear to be at the beginning of a bull market," U.S. investment bank Jefferies said on Thursday.

Analysts said falling output in the United States, where Energy Aspects said there were now even "murmurings of

volumes falling short" of demand, and a weak dollar were supporting prices and attracting investors.

"The recent trend of rising crude oil prices received another boost after U.S. output was shown to have fallen again last week," ANZ bank said, following a release by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing that crude oil production fell to 8.94 million barrels per day (bpd) last week, down almost half a million bpd from this time last year.

While Jefferies said it expected the market to remain oversupplied in the near term, it said that crude inventories should begin to fall by the third quarter, "setting the stage for a fundamental recovery".

Analysts said that further bullish momentum could emerge due to ongoing weakness in the dollar, which is down almost 6 percent this year against a basket of other leading currencies, as a weaker greenback makes dollar-traded crude cheaper to buy for countries using other currencies at home.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it would leave U.S. interest rates unchanged, while the bank of Japan said Thursday it would hold back from expanding stimulus.

Jefferies also warned that global spare capacity, estimated around 2 million bpd, or 2 percent of demand, was "precariously low" given the frequency of unexpected disruptions recently, including pipeline interruptions and strikes, as well as "the dire fiscal situation of producers like Venezuela, Iraq and Nigeria."

Article Link to Reuters:

Weak consumer spending, trade seen hurting U.S. first quarter growth

By Lucia Mutikani
April 28, 2016

U.S. economic growth likely stalled in the first quarter as domestic demand cooled and a strong dollar continued to undercut exports, but a pick-up in activity is anticipated given a buoyant labor market.

Gross domestic product probably rose at a 0.7 percent annual rate after a 1.4 percent pace in the fourth quarter, according to a Reuters survey, also as businesses stepped up efforts to reduce unwanted merchandise clogging up their warehouses.

Growth was also likely dented by cheap oil, which has hurt the profits of oil field companies like Schlumberger (SLB.N) and Halliburton (HAL.N) and contributed to weak business spending. The Commerce Department will publish its advance first-quarter GDP growth estimate on Thursday at 8:30 a.m.(1230 GMT).

"I don't think it means the economy is in trouble," said Paul Ashworth chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto. "Employment growth was incredibly strong in the quarter and forward-looking surveys have rebounded over the last months, suggesting the second quarter will be much stronger," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

The Federal Reserve, following a policy meeting that ended on Wednesday, acknowledged economic activity had "slowed," but also said labor market conditions had "improved further."

The U.S. central bank appeared to view the threats from the global economy and financial markets as having diminished. The Fed left its benchmark overnight interest rate unchanged and suggested it was in no hurry to tighten monetary policy further. It hiked rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade.

First-quarter GDP growth could, however, surprise on the upside after a report on Wednesday showed the goods trade deficit plunging to a one-year low in March as both exports and imports declined, a sign of weak domestic and global demand.

Economists also say the model used by the government to strip out seasonal patterns from data is not fully accomplishing its goal despite recent steps to address the problem.

Residual seasonality has plagued first-quarter GDP, with growth underperforming in five of the last six years since the recovery started in June 2009.

Economy Resilient 

"It will be tough to swallow such a low first-quarter GDP print, but thankfully we should be quickly reminded of the strength and resiliency of the U.S. economy when the April nonfarm payroll report is released next Friday," said Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Another month of strong job gains is expected in April, with applications for unemployment benefits near a 43-year low. Job growth averaged 209,000 jobs per month in the first quarter.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, is expected to have significantly decelerated from the fourth quarter's 2.4 percent rate.

Households have been frugal, cutting back on purchases of automobiles, despite cheap gasoline. Households appear to have socked away modest wage gains from the tightening labor market and the gasoline savings. They have also reduced their debt.

Higher savings and a lower debt load augur well for an acceleration in consumer spending.

Tepid consumer spending likely gave businesses more reason to place fewer orders for goods and ramp up efforts to reduce an inventory bloat. In the first quarter, businesses are forecast to have accumulated between $48 billion and $56 billion worth of inventory, down from $78.3 billion in the fourth quarter.

Economists estimate the small inventory build will cut about seven-tenths of a percentage point from first quarter GDP growth, up from the 0.22 percentage point drag in the fourth quarter.

Trade is expected to have subtracted four-tenths of a percentage point from GDP growth, with dollar strength weighing on exports. The dollar gained 20 percent versus the currencies of the United States' trading partners between June 2014 and December 2015.

So far this year the dollar is down 2.6 percent on a trade weighted basis, raising optimism for a rebound in exports.

A sustained plunge in energy sector investment probably put more pressure on business spending. Investment in software, equipment and nonresidential structures is expected have declined further in the first quarter.

Strong gains in residential investment are expected. Housing has been the bright spot in the economy.

Article Link to Reuters:

Thursday, April 28, Morning Global Market Roundup: Asian shares trim early gains, yen soars as BOJ stuns markets

By Saikat Chatterjee
April 28, 2016

Asian stocks surrendered early gains in chaotic trade on Thursday and the yen surged against the dollar after the Bank of Japan defied market expectations for more monetary stimulus even as prices slipped deeper into deflationary territory.

The near 3 percent fall in dollar/yen was its biggest daily drop since August 2015 and the second biggest in five years, while the yen's gain against the euro was the biggest in five years.

European shares were seen opening lower, weighed down by weaker commodity prices and the late pullback in Asia.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was up 0.2 percent by mid-afternoon after rising as much as 0.5 percent prior to the BOJ decision.

Asian markets were broadly a sea of red, with Japan's Nikkei .N225 tumbling 3.6 percent.

The BOJ's decision to hold policy steady in the face of soft global demand and an unwelcome rise in the yen has quickly become the market event of the week, overshadowing the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision on Wednesday to keep policy unchanged.

"The decision came as an utter surprise. I thought the BOJ would ease further today to accelerate the yen trend which had been weakening on expectations for further easing," said Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

Along with keeping policy unchanged, the BOJ cut its inflation forecasts. It also pushed back the timing for hitting its 2 percent price target by six months, saying it may not happen until March 2018 at the latest.

Data earlier showed consumer prices in Japan fell in March at the fastest pace in three years and household spending declined at the fastest pace in a year.

The BOJ's move derailed demand for risky assets which was fanned overnight after the Fed showed little sign it was in a hurry to tighten monetary policy.

Some of the biggest reaction to the BOJ's decision took place in the currency markets. By midafternoon, the yen hit a 10-day high of 108.25.

The euro retreated more than 2 percent to 123.31 yen EURJPY=R on the day as short yen positions got washed out.

"It was inevitable that the yen regained all the losses made on easing expectations. Sure, the market was disappointed, but that does not mean the yen will keep gaining," said Koji Fukaya, president of FPG Securities in Tokyo.

With two of the world's major central banks unwilling to add to policy stimulus, government bond yields may have marked a bottom for now.

Both 10-year U.S. Treasury yields US10YT=RR and Japanese bond yields JP10YT=RR were higher on the day.

U.S. crude futures CLc1 were down 0.2 percent at $45.17 a barrel, after hitting their 2016 high of $45.62 following the Fed's decision. Brent LCOc1 also rose to the highest for this year at $47.45, but shed 0.3 percent in Asian trade to $47.04. [O/R]

Earlier in the session, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 2.25 percent, but reiterated further easing may be needed given weak inflation.

An index of high yield debt (HYG) consolidated gains after hitting its highest levels in more than five months while S&P index futures ESc1 turned lower on the day.

Paul Ryan’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The House is deadlocked and the GOP presidential field is tearing itself apart, but that doesn’t bother Speaker Paul Ryan. Because nothing does. Ever.

By Olivia Nuzzi
The Daily Beast
April 28, 2016

Paul Ryan began by thanking the audience for “indulging” him, but he didn’t say in what.

That would become clear soon enough.

Ostensibly, the Speaker of the House’s talk at Georgetown University on Wednesday afternoon was about about the issues facing the 700 millennial voters seated within the mahogany and stained glass confines of Gaston Hall. But to listen closely was to hear a man fully in denial.

The grim reality of the Republican Party in 2016 seems just too much for Paul Ryan to bear.

And so he isn’t bearing it.

Things are, to hear Ryan tell it, peachy.

“I’ve been very dismayed by this year’s election thus far,” a junior government major rose from his chair to tell Ryan, who responded by joking, “why is that?”

The student asked for advice and reasons for optimism for young conservatives like himself, who will never support Donald Trump but who don’t like Ted Cruz, either.

“Unfortunately this is not the first time I’ve had this question,” Ryan said, laughing.

Then he explained that, actually, everything is fine if you ignore the bad stuff entirely.

“I would look at the ideas,” Ryan said, “look at the platform that is being advanced.”

Ryan pointed to his five-point legislative agenda—broadly: national security, the economy, health care, poverty, and the Constitution—the specifics of which he’s promised will be worked out “by the time that we have a nominee.”

The agenda is supposed to guide whomever wins the nomination as well as Republican congressional candidates around the country.

“In front of you is not just a vote for a person, a political personality,” Ryan said. “In front of you, if we do our jobs the right way, will be a choice of two paths that you will have to take: do you want to stay in the status quo, do you want to stay on the path we’re on, or do you want to go in this different direction?”

“That’s the choice you’ll have,” Ryan said, “far more than a personality.”

Even Karl Rove understands that the Republican brand has been sullied by the rise of Donald Trump.

Having led the polls and won the majority of primaries and caucuses since the race formally began, Trump is now a few hundred delegates away from mathematically qualifying for the nomination. And it’s Trump, a populist neo-fascist who is running under and all over the GOP banner despite having donated to Democrats. Trump partied at his third wedding with Bill and Hillary Clinton, and who misunderstood just about every aspect of conservatism. —who is the de-facto leader of the Republican Party, not Paul Ryan or any of his establishment cohorts with their big brains and bullet points.

And the alternative to Trump, Ted Cruz, is not much better for the GOP’s reputation, a hardass evangelical Christian who would sooner put cement in his shoes and swim in the Potomac than move an inch to get something done in Washington.

Earlier Wednesday, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Ryan dismissed the idea that there is any conflict between him and the Republican candidates. “We have lots of different views,” he said, “but come from the same principles.”

Ryan is now the real life version of the meme of the dog saying “This is fine” and having a cup of coffee while his kitchen is engulfed in flames.

In fairness, he’s trying to sell these kids a broken product. The GOP at this point is a like a Shamwow that covers your car in black paint instead of soap—making the mess ten times more dirty than it was when you started.

Pitching love and happiness could work if your standard bearer wasn’t a fearmonger.

But Trump is—so it’s unclear what Ryan’s endgame is here and why the hell he’s spending his afternoon talking to college kids about Uber and Snapchat (he said the world needs them to produce more apps like that) instead of, I don’t know, governing.

The budget deadline passed weeks ago because Ryan’s House can’t agree on what color the sky is on a clear day.

Still, Ryan’s excuse for not getting into the presidential race, after establishment forces begged him to run, was that he was too busy with his job as Speaker.

But it would seem as though he’s conflicted, and it would also seem as though he’s definitely not busy.

He uploads gauzy YouTube videos that could, with a little tweaking, become campaign ads. (By the way he’s definitely not running for president, so stop asking.)

In March, he made a video called “Bracketology” about his March Madness strategy.

Earlier this month, he released a clip called, “Politics These Days,” about how he wants to bring people together rather than divide them.

After the event, a tiny cavalry of black SUVs pulled out of the driveway, onto 37th Street—the unsatisfying Paul Ryan motorcade his non-campaign about nothing deserves.

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U.S. Kills 40 Top ISIS Operatives Linked to Europe Attacks

Delta Force and Navy SEALs have crippled the terror group’s ability to recruit foreign fighters and put pressure on the network responsible for striking Europe.

By Kimberly Dozier
The Daily Beast
April 28, 2016

As the self-proclaimed Islamic State trumpets its global terrorist campaign, U.S. special operations forces have quietly killed more than three dozen key ISIS operatives blamed for plotting deadly attacks in Europe and beyond.

Defense officials tell The Daily Beast that U.S. special operators have killed 40 “external operations leaders, planners, and facilitators” blamed for instigating, plotting, or funding ISIS’s attacks from Brussels and Paris to Egypt and Africa.

That’s less than half the overall number of ISIS targets that special operators have taken off the battlefield, one official explained, including top leaders like purported ISIS second-in-command Haji Imam, killed in March.

The previously unpublished number provides a rare glimpse into the U.S. counterterrorist mission that is woven into overall coalition efforts to defeat ISIS, and which is credited with crippling ISIS efforts to recruit foreign fighters and carry out more plots like the deadly assault on Paris that killed 130 last fall.

As proof of the campaign’s overall success, Pentagon officials this week said the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria had dropped from up to 2,000 a month last year to just 200, and the overall size of ISIS from a high estimate of 33,000 a year ago to between 19,000 to 25,000 fighters.

The U.S. strikes have picked up pace since Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the deployment of special operations forces to northern Iraq last December, under the unwieldy moniker of “Expeditionary Targeting Force,” the officials said. The spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the special operations mission publicly.

The officials expect that tempo to rise as the newly expanded special operations advising team inside Syria also grows from 50 to up to 300, as President Obama announced in Germany on Monday.

Officials say the Syria-based U.S. special operators help stitch together the disparate members of the Syrian Defense Force and vet others who want to join the mission, while also gathering intelligence on the ground that leads to strikes.

The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other elements of the U.S. intelligence community are also driving the effort, finding and feeding the intelligence to the coalition strike force.

At the top of the special operations target list is the network of ISIS operatives blamed for “external operations”: 60 attacks in 21 countries that have killed 1,000 people since January 2015, the officials said. Most of the ISIS targets were killed in Syria, by special operations combat aircraft, but also by troops who attempted to capture a handful of high value ISIS targets in raids. All of those targets resisted arrest and were killed, the officials said.

That grim tally includes the previously announced December killing of Syrian-based ISIS member Charaffe al-Mouadan, who officials have concluded had direct ties to Abdel Hamid Abaoud, the leader of the ISIS cell that attacked Paris last November. Mouadan was among an estimated 10 militants taken out in a spec-ops air strike.

Another was Abdul Kader Hakim, killed in Mosul in December. The Pentagon called Hakim an “external operations facilitator” and a forgery specialist with links to the Paris attack network.

Sometimes the kills or attempted captures are not announced, in order to see how ISIS responds, one of the senior officials explained. “What are they doing, what are they saying, who are they communicating to? How do they backfill the missing operator?” he said. Those reactions can reveal weakness the U.S. task force can exploit.

“The point of such operations is to keep ISIS guessing,” he said.

Defense officials acknowledge the downside of the secrecy of the operations is that humanitarian and human rights organizations that try to serve as neutral arbiters in war zones don’t always know who to call when civilians report allegations of casualties or damage in the aftermath of a military strike—or when someone goes missing, possibly taken in a raid. Two senior defense officials said they were actively working to establish and maintain relationships with such agencies in areas where their troops operate, including sharing with the International Red Cross details of any detainees taken within a short time of their capture. The ICRC spokesperson in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment.

The special operations counterterrorist mission is spearheaded by troops from the Joint Special Operations Command, the U.S. military’s premier counterterrorist unit.

But unlike previous conflicts, where JSOC raiders worked in secret, usually apart from other types of special operators, the Iraq and Syria teams blend specialists from multiple disciplines. “Door kickers” from units like the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs’ Naval Special Warfare Development Group who train for hostage rescue missions or kill-capture raids are paired with operators like Green Berets who specialize in learning foreign languages and cultures, and training local forces.

“The teams are integrated in just about everything we do,” one defense official said.

The mixing of troops may have something to with the background of those in charge of the ISIS fight. Current JSOC commander Lt. Gen. Scott Miller and his predecessor Gen. Tony Thomas both ran the overall special operations task force in Afghanistan, which blended the different skills of very different, sometimes competing spec-ops tribes.

Thomas now runs the U.S. Special Operations Command. Miller most recently commanded Fort Benning, Ga., where he oversaw the U.S. Army Ranger School that produced the first successful women candidates ahead of the Pentagon’s decision to open all combat roles to women.

And Gen. Joseph Votel, who previously led both USSOCOM and JSOC, now runs the ISIS campaign as head of Central Command. While rooted in the counterterrorism realm earlier in his career, he has a broader perspective on what the different special operations tribes bring to the fight.

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