Archive:

April 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Henry Kissinger and George Shultz Are Diplomatic In Their Discussion Of The "Framework" With Iran:  (As you would expect from two former secretaries of state.)

Diplomatic, but extremely dubious in this longish op-ed.

Here's an example of that mixture, with the diplomatic part first:
The president deserves respect for the commitment with which he has pursued the objective of reducing nuclear peril, as does Secretary of State John Kerry for the persistence, patience and ingenuity with which he has striven to impose significant constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

Progress has been made on shrinking the size of Iran’s enriched stockpile, confining the enrichment of uranium to one facility, and limiting aspects of the enrichment process.   Still, the ultimate significance of the framework will depend on its verifiability and enforceability.

Negotiating the final agreement will be extremely challenging.  For one thing, no official text has yet been published.  The so-called framework represents a unilateral American interpretation.  Some of its clauses have been dismissed by the principal Iranian negotiator as “spin.”  A joint EU-Iran statement differs in important respects, especially with regard to the lifting of sanctions and permitted research and development.
If you read farther down, you'll see that they think that verification — assuming there is a final agreement — will be almost impossible.

This is speculative, but here's how I read that op-ed:  Kissinger and Shultz are pleading with the Obama administration (and perhaps with the European leaders) not to make this agreement.  That explains the odd mix of flattery and substantive criticism.   It's an ancient approach; I wouldn't be surprised to learn that advisors in the courts of Sumeria used it when they were appealing to the rulers of that era.

But it almost certainly won't work, this time.

(I don't blame Kissinger and Shultz for trying, even though they must have known the odds were against them.)
- 3:06 PM, 8 April 2015   [link]


Ally, Friend, Colleague, Opponent, Enemy, Traitor:  That order seems sensible to me (and I hope to you).  We put "traitor" after "enemy" because we think it worse when one of ours goes over to an enemy, than when they have been an enemy all along.

I started with that to emphasize the astonishing vitriol Professor emeritus Lawrence Tribe is now receiving from Democrats, including Democrats in the White House.
Mr. Tribe, 73, has been retained to represent Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal company, in its legal quest to block an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants — the heart of Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda.
. . .
To many Democrats and professors at Harvard, Mr. Tribe is a traitor.  “The administration’s climate rule is far from perfect, but sweeping assertions of unconstitutionality are baseless,” Jody Freeman, director of the environmental law program at Harvard Law School, and Richard Lazarus, an expert in environmental law who has argued over a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, wrote in a rebuttal to Mr. Tribe’s brief on the Harvard Law School website.   “Were Professor Tribe’s name not attached to them, no one would take them seriously.”
. . .
Anger from within the Obama administration about Mr. Tribe’s actions is particularly fierce, although officials declined to comment on the record for fear of escalating the situation.

“Whether he intended it or not, Tribe has been weaponized by the Republican Party in an orchestrated takedown of the president’s climate plan,” said one former administration official.
(Emphasis added.)

Coral Davenport isn't saying this directly, but I think it fair to conclude that some of those calling Tribe a "traitor" are in the Obama administration, and may even include President Obama.

And that is odd for a number of reasons, including these two:  First, American lawyers will tell you that every party in a court cases deserves representation, and that we should not necessarily think worse of a lawyer who represents a party we dislike, even a coal company.

Second, as I am sure you know, a number of American lawyers volunteered to represent prisoners at Guantànamo.  When Obama came into office in 2009, did his administration denounce these lawyers as "traitors"?  No.  In fact, the Obama Justice Department hired some of them.
- 1:09 PM, 8 April 2015   [link]


The Onion Published the best article on negotiations with Iran that I've seen.

(If you share this with naive friends, be sure to warn them that the Onion is a satirical magazine.)
- 7:49 AM, 8 April 2015   [link]


What's The Most Important Story In The World This Morning?   For BBC America, it's the sad story of the South Carolina policeman who shot and killed a suspect.  They began with that story, and gave about half of their time to it.

It isn't hard to understand why; the officer is white, the suspect black.  And that fits the "narrative" that so many "mainstream" journalists pushed, so hard, after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson.

Having lost that example, after even the Obama Justice Department concluded that Officer Wilson should not be charged, our "mainstream" journalists are desperate to find another example.  And in a country as large as the United States, with millions of confrontations between police and suspects every day, it is inevitable that they will find one, probably a real one this time.

But those same journalists will show little interest in the possibility that hate crimes in the St. Louis area were inspired by their coverage of Ferguson, and no interest in the recent deaths of Detective Terence Avery Green, Sergeant Robert Wilson III, Officer Brennan Rabain, and Deputy U.S. Marshall Josie Wells — all of whom happen to be black.

All four officers died in the line of duty, three killed by suspects, one in a traffic accident.
- 7:15 AM, 8 April 2015   [link]


News You May Be Able To Use:  (Especially if you are a woman.)

Having just gone for a walk through Kirkland, I was reminded of this Wall Street Journal article, that advises you to make eye contact with car drivers when you enter a crosswalk.

I agree, and have found from experience that you can do even better by also raising a hand up, to say stop.  (Often, because of glare, you may not able to see the driver through the windshield, but you should still look at where he or she is, because they can almost always see you.)

By raising your hand you make it clear what you expect the driver to do.  It's something like a turn signal or a brake light.

As I exit the crosswalk, I again signal, by waving thanks, so that they know I am finished with the crosswalk.

Why women especially?  Because, in my observations, women are less assertive than men in these situations, on the average.

I must add, immediately, that this advice is intended for people who live in areas like mine, where almost all drivers think that they should give pedestrians the right of way, in crosswalks.  Those who live in places like New York or Chicago will need to work out different rules.

(This may seem odd, but I think you are being more polite when you make eye contact and raise your hand to say stop,  You are making it easier for the driver to do the right thing.)
- 6:07 PM, 7 April 2015   [link]


When I Read That Valerie Jarrett Planned To Stay In The White House, until "the lights go off”, I immediately had a mischievous thought.

Could it be that someone else had the same thought, and acted on it?
The White House, State Department and areas throughout D.C. and Maryland lost power Tuesday afternoon due to an explosion at an area power plant.

The power went out at the White House for nearly 10 seconds while the State Department conducted its press briefing in the dark. The Justice Department’s power also went down.
I assume that most people, like me, didn't take her literally, but it is just possible that someone decided to turn out the lights in an effort to get her to leave.

(For the record: By just possible I mean one chance in a million, or less.)
- 1:41 PM, 7 April 2015   [link]


Rand Paul Will Get Surprisingly Favorable Coverage From "Mainstream" Journalists:  I can predict that, even though I did not listen to his announcement that he was running for president (and don't plan to, though I may read a transcript), and haven't heard, or read, more than a few words about the announcement.

He will get favorable coverage because our "mainstream" journalists believe, with good reason, that he will attack and damage other Republicans.  In 2008, I noted that John McCain and Ron Paul, two very different men, had both received favorable coverage from "mainstream" journalists, who loved the fact that they sometimes attacked other Republicans.

If you follow politics closely, you can probably think of half a dozen similar examples.  And I don't need to tell you that Democrats, who attack other Democrats, do not get the same kind of coverage.
- 12:48 PM, 7 April 2015   [link]


The Contradictory Iran "Frameworks"  So far, what Americans know about Obama's agreement with Iran comes mostly from this rough outline, and what Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama have said about it — all in English.

But there are three other versions of the agreement.  Amir Taheri says we can ignore the two put out by the French and the European Union as too short and vague to be useful, but that we should pay close attention to the Iranian version — which is, naturally, in the official language of Iran, Persian.

This sample from his column should persuade you to read — and study — the whole thing, carefully.
The Iranian text opens by insisting that it has absolutely no “legal aspect” and is intended only as “a guideline for drafting future accords.”

The American text claims that Iran has agreed to do this or that, for example reducing the number of centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,500.

The Iranian text, however, says that Iran “shall be able to . . .” or “qader khahad boud” in Farsi to do such a thing.  The same is true about enrichment in Fordow.  The Americans say Iran has agreed to stop enrichment there for 15 years.  The Iranian text, however, refers to this as something that Iran “will be able to do,” if it so wished.

Sometimes the two texts are diametrically opposed.

The American statement claims that Iran has agreed not to use advanced centrifuges, each of which could do the work of 10 old ones.  The Iranian text, however, insists that “on the basis of solutions found, work on advanced centrifuges shall continue on the basis of a 10-year plan.”
There's much more in the column, including what Taheri says about Obama's "three outrageous claims" in his Rose Garden speech.  (I criticized the third, earlier.)

An enterprising White House reporter could mine that Taheri column for a number of useful and important questions, beginning with the most important one:  Do the Iranian and American "frameworks" agree?

(Caveat:  I don't know a word of Persian, or anyone who does, so I have no easy way of checking what Taheri says about the differing texts.  I did do a brief search for articles that contradicted his translation, but didn't find any.  I think it almost certain that Taheri is right in what he says about those differences.

You can see more of his columns, here.

For those who wonder just how important differences in the texts of agreements can be, I refer you to the first paragraph of this description of the Battle of Adowa.)
- 10:24 AM, 7 April 2015   [link]


"Chuck Schumer Bucks White House On Iran"  This is now the top story at Politico — and deserves to be.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Capitol Hill’s most influential voices in the Iran nuclear debate, is strongly endorsing passage of a law opposed by President Barack Obama that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered framework unveiled last week.

The comments Monday by the Democratic leader-in-waiting illustrate the enormity of the task ahead for Obama and his team: While there’s no guarantee that Congress would ultimately reject an agreement with Iran, there’s an increasingly bipartisan consensus that Congress should at least have the ability to do so.

“This is a very serious issue that deserves careful consideration, and I expect to have a classified briefing in the near future.  I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer said in an emailed statement to POLITICO.
. . .
Within the Senate Democratic Caucus, a dozen senators have either co-sponsored Corker’s legislation or indicated they could support it.  That would put the measure one vote shy of a veto-proof majority.  On Monday, three more Democratic senators — Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — left open the possibility of voting for it, according to aides.  Their support, however, could hinge on whether Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the new ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is able to negotiate concessions that alleviate concerns the bill could derail any agreement.
(Senator Bob Corker is the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.)

Large bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate now oppose Obama's "framework" agreement with Iran.  The majorities are now large enough so that it is likely that Obama would lose on this issue, if a vote were held, now.

Presidents don't often lose on foreign policy.  (And probably shouldn't, since there are great advantages to speaking with a single voice on foreign policy.)  That President Obama is facing this level of open opposition from within his own party shows how unpopular his policies toward Iran are.
- 9:12 AM, 7 April 2015   [link]


The First Batch Of Kitzhaber Emails Has Been Released:  On Friday, naturally.  And the journalists who have been reviewing them have already found what you probably suspected they would find.
The State of Oregon released 94,000 emails Friday that involved the fiancée of former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who resigned in February over allegations that the former first lady used her relationship with him to land contracts for her business.

The emails reveal that Cylvia Hayes, Kitzhaber’s longtime companion, played a very active role in his administration and sometimes raised tension among his staff. Hayes attended meetings, was copied on emails among senior staff and requested information or clerical assistance from state employees.

Kitzhaber had previously downplayed her role in the administration, insisting she was not an advisor or public official, which would make her adhere to the ethics laws that Kitzhaber and his administration must uphold.
(Those ethics laws can be a nuisance.)

Hayes is trying to prevent the release of personal emails, which probably won't surprise you, either.

That Hayes was peddling influence seems indisputable to me; whether she was breaking laws is a question I will leave to the lawyers.

(You will have noticed that Fox uses three different terms to describe their relationship: fiancée, first lady, and longtime companion.  Better than any of those, perhaps, would be the old French phrase, maîtresse-en-titre.   The most obvious English translation, official mistress, doesn't quite capture all the meaning in the French phrase, in my opinion.

Hayes and Kitzhaber are still engaged.  There may be some legal reasons for them to get married before they can be questioned about their relationship, under oath.)
- 1:55 PM, 6 April 2015   [link]


Here's A Small, But Entertaining, Scandal from Great Britain.
A Liberal Democrat campaigner has been exposed as a dominatrix who used the party's constituency headquarters for her bondage and porn film business.

Michelle Gent directed and starred in violent films featuring whips, chains, swords and scantily clad women before selling the videos online.
Ms. Gent is a grandmother, as well as a film director, which could result in some interesting conversations with her grandchild, or, in the future, perhaps grandchildren.

The Daily Mail wasn't first on this story, but they had a slightly better set of pictures than the Mirror.   On the other hand, the Mirror did want to know how was going to vote in the upcoming British election.

(If you are wondering whether the British Liberal Democrats are usually this entertaining, the answer is no.)
- 1:16 PM, 6 April 2015   [link]


Need A Recent Example Of A Dubious Story?  Here's one.
It’s rare that a man is lost at sea and returns home looking even healthier than before he disappeared.

But that’s exactly what skeptics of Louis Jordan have pointed out as they question the 37-year-old’s miraculous account of surviving 66 days adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.
When I saw this story on TV, I thought that it needed some verification; it is not impossible, but the physical evidence made it a story that deserved some skepticism.  But it didn't get that skepticism in the stories I saw.
- 9:30 AM, 6 April 2015   [link]


What's Surprising About The Rolling Stone Story isn't that it was wrong; it was that it drew enough attention so that it was retracted.
After its story on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia fell apart, Rolling Stone magazine commissioned the Columbia School of Journalism to investigate the incident and write a report about what went wrong. That report, by Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll and Derek Kravitz, was issued today.  More or less simultaneously, the author of the Rolling Stone piece, Sabrina Erdely, released an apology.
Almost every day, I see dubious stories, stories that probably could not stand up to fact checking.

But I don't see much evidence that our news organizations — even after a big scandal — are going to change; certainly Rolling Stone doesn't plan to.  No one will be fired, and no policies will be changed.
“It’s not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things,” Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana is quoted as saying.  “We just have to do what we’ve always done and just make sure we don’t make this mistake again.”

Coco McPherson, who runs the magazine’s fact-checking operation, had similar thoughts: “I one-hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed.  I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.”
It is not hard to understand why Erdely failed; she was looking for a particular kind of story, and she thought she had found it.

And it seems likely that those who run the magazine wanted the same kind of story, a story in which rich white guys behaved badly.

(As far as I know, Erdely did not investigate Jesse Matthew, who is accused of multiple rapes and murders.)
- 9:06 AM, 6 April 2015   [link]


Andrew Malcolm Runs His Easter Bunny/Vietnamese Refugee story again. (And why not?  It's a good story.)
Each visit I would stay a while to chat and answer questions.  These men had interpreted Vietnam's exotic culture and language for many correspondents and steered us all from potential harm countless times.  One afternoon the senior interpreter -- I'll call him Tran -- asked about this Easter business he'd heard on the radio.  Sounded like a children's holiday with candy and toys, and he wanted his kids to jump right into American culture.

I explained it was a profoundly religious day he could learn about later.  But yes, attached to Easter were customs like candy and other things.
All went fairly well, until Malcolm tried to explain the Easter Bunny, who never made very much sense to me, and made no sense at all to the refugees.

(Here's the Wikipedia description of the history of the Easter Bunny.   I had forgotten that, in many countries, he's a hare, not a rabbit.)
- 3:22 PM, 5 April 2015   [link]


Happy Easter!  To all those who celebrate it today.

Easter flowers, 2008

Which is most Western Christians, this year.  (Orthodox Christians will celebrate it next week.)
- 12:57 PM, 5 April 2015   [link]


Here's The 538 Election Prediction For Britain:  Which will be updated, daily.

(To see the numbers for each party, mouse over the graph.)

So, how many seats does a party (or a coalition) need to win, in order to control the House of Commons?  That's a bit trickier than it might seem at first glance.  There are 650 seats, but one of them is held by the Speaker, who is nonpartisan.  Then there are the five seats held by Sinn Fein; those five members collect their pay and perks, but do not vote.  Allowing for both, a working majority would be 323 seats,  But there are currently five independents, who might be persuaded to join, or at least support, a coalition.  And of course the other minor parties might be persauded to join a coalition.

Here's an obvious point, but one that deserves attention:  Regional parties are more likely to win seats than national parties like UKIP, even though the regional parties attract fewer votes.

It's still early, but you may want to look at the graph of the polling in the Wikipedia article.  During the last two years, Labour has been losing support, the Conservatives have been staying constant, and the minor parties have been gaining.

(Here's my first post on the election.)
- 3:55 PM, 4 April 2015   [link]


Worth Reading:  Judith Miller's op-ed, "The Iraq War and Stubborn Myths".

Here's how she begins:
I took America to war in Iraq. It was all me.

OK, I had some help from a duplicitous vice president, Dick Cheney.  Then there was George W. Bush, a gullible president who could barely locate Iraq on a map and who wanted to avenge his father and enrich his friends in the oil business.  And don’t forget the neoconservatives in the White House and the Pentagon who fed cherry-picked intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, to reporters like me.

None of these assertions happens to be true, though all were published and continue to have believers.  This is not how wars come about, and it is surely not how the war in Iraq occurred.  Nor is it what I did as a reporter for the New York Times.   These false narratives deserve, at last, to be retired.
(Emphasis added.

Some readers may need to be reminded that she is being sarcastic in those first two paragraphs.)

Later on, she makes this point, which I have made before
A two-year study by Charles Duelfer, the former deputy chief of the U.N. inspectors who led America’s hunt for WMD in Iraq, concluded that Saddam Hussein was playing a double game, trying (on the one hand) to get sanctions lifted and inspectors out of Iraq and (on the other) to persuade Iran and other foes that he had retained WMD.  Not even the Iraqi dictator himself knew for sure what his stockpiles contained, Mr. Duelfer argued.  Often forgotten is Mr. Duelfer’s well-documented warning that Saddam intended to restore his WMD programs once sanctions were lifted.
Actually, I would say that Saddam was continuing his WMD programs, with the exception of most of the nuclear work.  And that the programs were more of a worry than the weapons themselves.

Sadly, I think those false narratives will never be retired; they are simply too useful, politically, to too many journalists and politicians.
- 2:58 PM, 4 April 2015   [link]


Mostly For Entertainment — I Hope — Tim Urban has been exploring what happens when you string all of us out, and when you pack all of us together.
The human race, which seems overwhelmingly large in one dimension when it’s wrapping 55 times around the Earth or forming a circle that dwarfs the moon’s orbit, seems much more manageable when it can fit inside Bahrain or New York City with room to spare and almost quaint when organized neatly into a cube that would take you only 20 minutes to jog around.
There's more, if that wasn't enough.

By way of the Washington Post.

(For the record:  I am reasonably sure he does not intend to perform any of these thought experiments.)
- 7:36 AM, 3 April 2015   [link]


What's The Ideal Timing For The Troy Kelley Affair?  (At times I can't resist putting on my Dick Morris hat and thinking like a pure political technician.)

As I have mentioned, our Democratic state auditor is being investigated by federal agents, probably for not paying all the taxes he should have.  The investigation has inspired our local journalists to finally look into Kelley's past, which has some dubious parts.   (Here's the best single description of his legal problems that I've seen.)

Right now, Kelley is refusing to say anything about the investigation which, naturally, makes our journalists even more curious about his past.

The investigation has, apparently, been going on for years, so there is some reason to think that it could continue for another year or so.

And Republicans who are thinking tactically will be delighted if it does.  In fact, they will hope that the most dramatic announcement, for example Kelley being arrested, happens just as voting begins.  Since we have early voting here in Washington state, that would be sometime early in October, next year.

For Democrats, the best timing is for his legal problems to be resolved as soon as possible, either by the investigation being ended, or by Kelley resigning, and ending their political problems, if not his legal problems.  (It's my impression that Democratic leaders are already hoping that he will resign, and may be quietly looking for someone to oppose him in the primary.)

(As a good citizen, naturally I hope that — if he is guilty — he leave office as soon as possible, and hope that — if he is innocent — he is exonerated, quickly.)
- 6:56 AM, 3 April 2015   [link]


Do We Have An "Historic Agreement" With Iran?  As President Obama, the BBC, and American networks told us last night?

No.

We have a "framework" that might — or might not — serve as the basis for an agreement.

Here's a selection to show you how informal that framework is.
FORDO CONVERSION

(Iran will convert its facility at Fordo so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium)

—Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium at its Fordo facility for at least 15 years.

—Iran has agreed to convert its Fordo facility so that it is used for peaceful purposes only— into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.
You don't have to be an international lawyer to recognize that that's not the text of a formal agreement.  Nor do you have to be an expert on nuclear technology to see loopholes in that part of the "framework".

There is a second difficulty in the "framework", and the negotiations generally, that Obama, the BBC, and our networks did not mention.

The negotiations are usually described as being between the United States and Iran, so when you read my headline, you probably substituted the United States for "We".

But in fact, the negotiations are between Iran, on one side, and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, on the other side.  (Our side is often described as the Group of 5+1.)

Which means that the enforcement of sanctions in any future agreement will be just as strong as Russia and China permit it to be.
We don’t yet know all the details of the nuclear agreement that Iran, the United States and five other world powers announced Thursday they are aiming to complete by June 30.   What we do know is that any acceptable final deal will depend on a strong weapons inspection element.  In his remarks in the Rose Garden, President Obama declared Tehran had agreed to precisely that.  “If Iran cheats, the world will know,” he said.

Yet weapons inspectors can be no tougher than the body that empowers them—in this instance the UN Security Council. And herein lies the agreement’s fundamental weakness—and perhaps its fatal flaw.  Do we really want to depend on Vladimir Putin?  Because Russia will be able to decide what to enforce in any deal—and what not to.
You don't have to be cynic to agree with Charles Duelfer that Vladimir Putin is not an ideal partner in this kind of effort.

(This morning, I watched BBC America to see if they were still touting the framework as an historic agreement.  Oddly, they downplayed the framework, by putting the story about half way through their broadcast — but supported it even more strongly by showing us celebrations in Iran.  Perhaps the editors, though not the reporter in Iran, have had second thoughts.  A glance at the main BBC site shows that they have not yet given the arguments against the framework any significant space.)
- 6:14 AM, 3 April 2015   [link]


Two Pieces Worth Reading:  First, this Washington Post article that attempts to explain why President Obama is so determined to get a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Two samples:
The Iran talks also reflect his abiding belief that the best way to change the behavior of hostile governments with spotty human rights records is not through isolation or the threat of military force, but by persistent engagement.  In recent years, Obama has pushed to open up trade and diplomatic relations with countries such as Cuba and Burma.

“He believes the more people interact with open societies, the more they will want to be part of an open society,” said Ivo Daalder, Obama’s former NATO ambassador and head of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Iran, a longtime enemy and sponsor of some of the world’s most potent militias and terrorist groups, is the biggest and boldest test of Obama’s theory.
. . .
“There’s a determination to prove the Republicans wrong, and to prove the world wrong,” said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Biden and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

An accord with Iran also would give credence to Obama’s core belief that the United States must be open to negotiations with its enemies.  In 2007, the then presidential candidate said it was a “disgrace” that the Bush administration had not done more to talk with U.S. enemies in the Middle East.  “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous,” Obama said.
Greg Jaffe is sympathetic to Obama, but honest enough to provide support for the arguments that Obama is trying to force the world to fit his ideology — regardless of the facts — and motivated, in part, by petty partisanship.

Second, this column by Bret Stephens, explaining how much Obama has already conceded to the Iranians.
For a sense of the magnitude of the capitulation represented by Barack Obama’s Iran diplomacy, it’s worth recalling what the president said when he was trying to sell his interim nuclear agreement to a Washington, D.C., audience in December 2013.

“We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program,” Mr. Obama said of the Iranians in an interview with Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire philanthropist.  “They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program.  They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program.”
All of those are reasonable conditions; all of them have been given up by Obama, in his desperate effort to make an agreement with Iran.

(Jaffe, to his credit, notes that we could impose significantly heavier sanctions on Iran.

Stephens says that we had "all the strong cards" when we started the negotiations.  I wish I could agree with him on that.

Note: I have just started using the Real Clear Politics trick of giving you a search, rather than a direct link to pieces in the Wall Street Journal.  That will save you a step.)
- 9:44 AM, 2 April 2015   [link]


Some Editor Played A Nasty Trick On Nick Gillespie:   Here's the headline over his opinion piece in the Daily Beast: "Everybody's Lost Their Goddamn Mind Over Religious Freedom".   (A different, and I assume earlier, headline: "Goddamn Craziness Over Religious Freedom" is shown in the favorite reads list.)

(For those who didn't laugh immediately, here's a hint:  Is Gillespie one of the people included in "Everybody"?)

There's not much reason to read the rest; it's a standard Gillespie rant, in which he angrily calls for everyone else to be more like Nick Gillespie.

But I thought you might get a chuckle out of that headline — even as you join me in hoping that Gillespie recovers his mind.

(From time to time, I look at pieces Gillespie writes, and am almost always disappointed.   I think that specific libertarian critiques often have much to teach us, but that there is little to learn from those for whom libertarianism is a religion.

Minor technical point: As I assume most of you know, usually writers do not choose their own headlines; usually that's done by an editor.)
- 8:31 AM, 2 April 2015   [link]


A Sensible Post On Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act:  If you are like me, by now you have seen so many hysterical news stories on Indiana's mostly innocuous law that you are jumpy when watching the TV news, and nervous when paging through a newspaper.

This morning, I actually found myself watching bits from a comparatively rational program, a "Three Stooges" movie, rather than watch one more story about the Indiana law.

Oh I know, the law has become a proxy fight between left wing gay activists and Americans with traditional beliefs — but it still seems to me that our journalists could have begun by telling us what such laws actually did, and who had supported them — notably Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — in the past.

So I was pleased when I ran across this Eugene Volokh post, which calmly discusses the judicial history behind these laws.

As it happens, our "mainstream" journalists have missed the irony of the current positions:
But it’s helpful to note, I think, that, whatever the motivation of some backers of RFRA today, RFRAs largely implement the religious exemption rules that Justice Brennan and the ACLU had long argued for — and that Justice Brennan and the ACLU had sharply criticized Justice Scalia and others for overruling.

Maybe the ACLU and many in that movement have changed its mind on the subject.  They are certainly entitled to do so.  But it’s worth noting that there is something of a change of mind going on, and that perhaps some of the old criticisms of Justice Scalia — who wrote Employment Division v. Smith (1990), which largely overruled the religious exemption rules that Justice Brennan had advocated — should be retracted.
In short, the left is now siding with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and against the very liberal late justice, William J. Brennan, Jr..

Whether you are closer to Scalia or Brennan, I think you will find something of interest in the post.

(For the record:  I probably disagree with Professor Volokh's position, but I still found his discussion of the history fascinating, and, so far as this amateur can judge, fair.)
- 6:33 PM, 1 April 2015   [link]


Michael Ramirez Goes Traditional in this cartoon.

Younger readers may need some help with his historical reference.

(Quibblers will note that Ramirez got the quotation a little bit wrong.  For a cartoon, I think Ramirez made the right choice — since the slightly-wrong quotation is likely to be more familiar than the correct quotation.)
- 3:01 PM, 1 April 2015   [link]


Eli Lake Gives The Devil His Due:  The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is an exceptionally skillful ambassador.   He's been conning Americans, successfully, for years.

Here's an important historical example:
Zarif has had some help in this charm offensive.   E-mails that surfaced from a defamation lawsuit brought by Swedish-Iranian activist Trita Parsi against an Iranian emigre, Hassan Dai, show that Zarif has worked closely with Parsi and the organization he founded, the National Iranian American Council.

For example, they show that in 2006, Zarif and Parsi tried to persuade journalists to write about a peace offer Iran had supposedly offered the George W. Bush administration after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Yet according to senior Bush administration officials, that 2003 offer was not a serious piece of diplomacy, and was not made through the channels by which the Bush administration communicated with Iran.  Nonetheless, the narrative stuck that the Bush team blew a chance at a breakthrough in 2003.  On the eve of the current negotiations in 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry repeated Zarif's talking point about the 2003 offer in an interview with ABC's "This Week." (The Washington Post judged the claim as dubious, earning it three Pinocchios).
(Emphasis added.)

Granted, conning John Kerry is not an impressive feat, but Zarif has conned some smarter people, too.

(How do you cope with an opponent that skillful?  You can simply refuse to negotiate with him, as the Bush administration did, but even that has drawbacks, because it allows him to spread his propaganda without refutation.  What I think you have to do is assign a smart State Department team to Zarif, long term, to watch him and do what they can openly, and secretly, to defeat his efforts.

There's some background on the National Iranian American Council in this brief Wikipedia article.   Assuming the article is roughly accurate, the NIAC looks like a front group for the Iranian regime.)
- 8:13 AM, 1 April 2015   [link]


April Fools' Day:  So it is time to point you, again, to this list of classic pranks, this list of tech pranks, this list of current pranks and this list of stories that sound like pranks, but aren't.

(The BBC is consistently good at covering these stories, and even inventing a few, such as the famous "spaghetti trees" prank.  Is that, perhaps, a reaction to being such a serious news organization all the rest of the year?  Seems plausible.

Recycled, with two updates, from 2014.)
- 7:23 AM, 1 April 2015   [link]