Saturday, April 25, 2015

John Kerry's State Dept. Silent on Israel's Independence Day

    Despite issuing statements commemorating the National Days or Independence Days of nearly 170 countries in the past twelve months, Secretary of State John Kerry allowed the 67th anniversary of the establishment of the nation of Israel to pass without comment. This is the third year in a row Kerry has failed to officially recognize Israel's Independence Day. Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, issued statements noting the occasion during the last two years of her tenure, 2011 and 2012.
    At the White House, President Obama this year missed marking the day with a statement for only the second time in his presidency. Vice President Biden, however, did attend an Israeli Independence Day Celebration at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington Thursday night. (President Obama was at the Ritz Carlton Hotel to deliver remarks and answers questions at an Organizing for Action dinner.)
    Earlier this month, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported that during Kerry's tenure, the State Department has tended to overlook Christian and Jewish occasions in favor of Islamic holidays and those of other faiths. (In the meantime, Kerry did recognize Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year on April 16.) For that story, a senior State Department official commented that the "State Department and White House work together to address national days and religious holidays to share the sentiments and best wishes of the American people." It is unclear why neither the State Department nor the White House marked Israel's 67th anniversary with official statements.
    In the past twelve months, Kerry has released official remarks on the National Days of countries such as Uganda, Somalia, Burkina Faso and even China's 65th year as the Communist Peoples Republic of China. Last July, Kerry congratulated Venezuela on the 203rd anniversary of that country's independence.
     Notably, shortly before Israel's Independence Day in 2014, Kerry issued a sharply worded statement excoriating those who questioned his support for Israel, saying that he "walked the walk when it came time to vote and ... fight" for Israel. Kerry had been quoted in a Daily Beast report as saying Israel was at risk of becoming "an apartheid state" if Middle East peace talks failed. Although Kerry said he should have "chosen a different word", he declared, "I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes[.]"
    About a week later on May 6, 2014, the White House released a statement commemorating Israel's Independence Day. Kerry, who met with European Union High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton, had no words on Israel in his only public remarks on that day.
    On this year's anniversary, Kerry made a statement on Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) Day; made remarks on Take Your Child to Work Day at the State Department; spoke on Renewing U.S. Leadership Through Economic Strength, and recorded a video greeting for Climate Partners. The 67th anniversary of the independence of the state of Israel, however, passed unnoticed.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kerry: Nations Prosper When 'Citizens Have Faith in Their Governments'

    Speaking Tuesday at the 45th Annual Washington Conference of the Council of the Americas, Secretary of State John Kerry said that "countries are far more likely to advance economically and socially when citizens have faith in their governments and are able to rely on them for justice and equal treatment under the law." Kerry said that a "new kind of relationship" with Latin American countries, emphasizing democracy and human rights, will contribute to "our common agenda for the hemisphere." Here are Kerry's remarks in fuller context:
At the UN Human Rights Council last fall, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay joined the United States in sponsoring a resolution in support of LGBT rights. Our landmark Open Government Partnership, which the United States launched with Brazil five years ago, is now chaired by Mexico. And over the past three years, we have worked with partners, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, and Jamaica, to help strengthen the independent bodies of the Inter-American Human Rights System. Many of the globe’s leading voices for human rights and the rule of law, obviously, share Spanish as their native tongue. 
Why does this matter? Well, it matters because countries are far more likely to advance economically and socially when citizens have faith in their governments and are able to rely on them for justice and equal treatment under the law. It matters because young people who have opportunities at home will stay and contribute to their societies instead of leaving in search of better luck elsewhere. It matters because freedom of thought and expression are the keys to innovation, which is how whole new industries begin. It matters because, in that most curious of ways, people who are given the liberty to be different are also the ones most likely to unite and band together in the face of shared threats.
    If faith in government is a necessary factor for a country's economic and social advancement, a recent Pew Research Center study, via the Washington Post, is not a good sign. The Post notes that the study found that only "23 percent [of Americans] trust the federal government to do the right thing 'at least most of the time.'"

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Did Susan Rice Disclose Classified Info on Iran?

     Bloomberg's Eli Lake reports Tuesday that the Obama administration kept secret until the beginning of April Iran's two to three month breakout time for a nuclear weapon, saying "the administration only declassified this estimate at the beginning of the month, just in time for the White House to make the case for its Iran deal to Congress and the public."
     Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking to reporters on Monday, said that the administration has held this assessment for "quite some time." Lake says that Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed Monday "that the two-to-three-month estimate for fissile material was declassified on April 1."
     However, at least one member of the administration publicly spoke about the two-to-three-month breakout time frame prior to April. On March 2, 2015, National Security Advisor Susan Rice addressed the annual AIPAC meeting and said the following [emphasis added]:
This is my third point—a good deal is one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.  Every single one. 
Any deal must prevent Iran from developing weapons-grade plutonium at Arak, or anywhere else. 
Any deal must prevent Iran from enriching uranium at its nuclear facility at Fordow—a site we uncovered buried deep underground and revealed to the world in 2009 
Any deal must increase the time it takes Iran to reach breakout capacity—the time it would take to produce a single bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium.  Today, experts suggest Iran’s breakout window is just two to three months.  We seek to extend that to at least one year.
     Rice's disclosure suggests that either DNI spokesman Brian Hale is incorrect in his assertion that the assessment was declassified on April 1, or Rice revealed classified information.
     The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Rice's March disclosure.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

White House Graphic Distorts Impact of Climate Change

    As Earth Day approaches, the White House is once again pushing action on climate change, presenting a rather stark contrast between action and inaction on carbon emissions. Monday, the following graphic appeared in a White House tweet, presenting almost a night-and-day difference between the status quo and adopting the president's policies:

    The way in which the White House chose to present the alternatives, however, seems to be designed to exaggerate the difference between the two.
     Although both the graphic and tweet display a link to the Climate Change page on the White House website, the map showing worldwide temperature variances does not appear there, although the same graphic has appeared several times in the past on the White House Twitter account. 
     The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, does present similar maps on its website. The following graphic shows low emissions, medium-high emissions, and high emissions scenarios during three time periods: 2011-2030; 2046-2065; and 2080-2099:

     The White House apparently chose to present only the longest range projection, the one extending to the end of the 21st century. But by using a different color scheme than the EPA and by leaving out any actual reference to the period of time being portrayed, the White House overdramatizes the comparison. Rather than a more gradual transition from greens and yellows to oranges and reds, the White House scale abruptly changes at the seven-degree mark from a dull gold to a rather dark orange that is almost indistinguishable from the next color, a dark red that represents the nine to eleven degree range. The result is striking. Here again is the White House map:

And here is a composite map representing the world split in half like the White House map, except using the EPA maps for low emissions versus high emissions:

     The difference is still apparent, yet far different from the extraordinary contrast implied by the White House graphic. The White House did not respond to a request for the source of the map using for its graphic.
     Of course, those who question the models and projections that the White House, the EPA and others rely on to press their case for draconian reductions in emissions reject the premise that human activity is driving a catastrophic increase in global temperatures. These skeptics are not likely to be swayed by the above maps in any case. But by presenting nearly a century of projections in such a misleading way, the Obama administration appears to be trying to manipulate those sitting on the fence to buy into a doomsday scenario that calls for the president's policies to avoid endangering the entire planet.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

State Dept. to Offer Course on Ethics for Journalists: 'Blurred Lines'

     The U.S. State Department is looking to design and facilitate a media ethics course for journalists in India, and has even proposed appropriating the name of Robin Thicke's 2013 hit "Blurred Lines" as a title for the course. The U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad, India is looking for a non-profit to co-develop the course to help Indian journalists gain a "baseline understanding of the international industry standards," including "accuracy, honesty, transparency, impartiality, and accountability," and is willing to spend $20,000 - $25,000 on it.
     The grant documents note that credibility is a key part of journalists' jobs to "keep their readership informed, hold us all accountable, filter fact from fiction, and unmask false narratives masquerading as truth." To that end, the State Department would like a full-time faculty member to propose curriculum content and develop a syllabus tailored to communicate journalistic standards to an Indian university audience. Additionally, the grant calls for a "U.S.-based, university-level journalism professor," suggested by the non-profit subject to approval by the State Department, to act as consultant in the development of the course.
     Once the course preparation is complete, the journalism professor will visit India at least three times: to meet with the coordinating university in India and "observe existing on-the-job training in various media houses", to conduct a three day seminar for other stakeholders, and to participate in first offering of the newly-designed course. The grant specifies that both the accommodations for the professor and the venue for the seminar must be a four-star hotel.
    The Indian universities of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha are singled as as participants in this project, but once developed, the State Department plans to make the material available for potential use by other diplomatic offices around India in coordination with other Indian universities around the country.
    The grant announcement for "Blurred Lines" comes a month after Robin Thicke and co-songwriter Pharrell Williams were found by a court to have been guilty of their own ethical lapses in the writing of the song of the same name. The two have been ordered to pay over $7 million to Marvin Gaye's estate over plagiarism of Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

New at the Clinton Presidential Center: Dinosaurs!

    Although "life-sized roaring, breathing dinosaurs" may not typically be found at a Presidential Center, visitors to the Clinton Presidential Center will soon find not just one, but thirteen of the prehistoric creatures as part of Dinosaurs Around the World, which runs from April 25 to October 18 at the Center's location in Little Rock, Arkansas. Jack Horner, a paleontologist involved with the Jurassic Park movies, will even be on hand for a special opening reception on April 22.

    Stephanie S. Streett, executive director of the Clinton Foundation, says the exhibit is designed with the whole family in mind. "We are thrilled to host the global premiere of Dinosaurs Around the World and look forward to sharing this interactive and scientific exhibit with our visitors. Our summer exhibits are highly anticipated by the community because they are specifically designed to appeal to the entire family." Elsewhere on the Foundation's website is the acknowledgement that "[a]lthough the Center exists principally to house the presidential archives, 90 percent of visitors come to view the exhibits in the museum."
    While the connection between former presidents and dinosaurs may not be readily apparent, the Clinton Foundation website explains:
The exhibit also features an area that chronicles the accomplishments of four U.S. Presidents who worked to preserve the fossil-rich areas in North America where dinosaurs once roamed. Exhibit artifacts include items from the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman. This display includes a dinosaur skull replica on loan from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an area that President Clinton designated as a national monument in 1996.
     The exhibit is produced by Imagine Exhibitions, which specializes in museum-quality exhibitions with interactive experiences for visitors. Their offerings include a new Hunger Games exhibit, a "research and study center" called Leonardo Da Vinci's Workshop, and a offering called Mob Attraction that "takes guest on a fun, exciting, interactive journey through the world of organized crime."
    Other recent temporary exhibits at the Clinton Presidential Center included "Pigskin in Peanuts" and "Heartbreak in Peanuts", which both commemorated the 65th anniversary of the classic Charles Schulz comic strip. The Clinton Foundation has not yet indicated what will take the place of Dinosaurs Around the World when the exhibit closes in October.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

27.49 Percent of Everyone's Tax Bill Is Spent on Health Care

    Every year since 2011, the White House has used tax time to post a "Federal Taxpayer Receipt" showing taxpayers how their federal tax dollars are being spent. President Obama introduced the concept in his 2011 State of the Union address, and Wednesday the White House posted the fifth installment so taxpayers can see how "tax dollars are being spent on priorities like education, veterans benefits, and health care."
    While users can punch in their own tax liability and see dollar amounts assigned to each category, the figures are based on percentages from the prior fiscal year budget. Comparing those percentages from year to year, taxpayers can see that from 2012 to 2014, the percentage of their taxes going towards federal healthcare expenses has jumped 22 percent.
    In 2010, the year the Obamacare passed and was signed into law, the healthcare percentage was 24.10. The following year, 2011, it dropped to 23.7 percent, and in 2012 dropped still further to 22.45 percent. After this, however, the trend sharply reversed. In 2013 the healthcare share jumped to 25.19 percent, and the latest numbers posted this week for 2014 show the highest proportion yet at 27.49 percent, a full 22 percent increase over 2012. This means that for every dollar a taxpayer pays in 2014, an additional nickel is going to pay for healthcare that had been spent elsewhere in 2012. Presently, over 27 cents on every dollar is spent by the federal government on healthcare, primarily Medicaid and Medicare.
     One area impacted is national defense. For the five years of the National Taxpayer Receipt, the share for national defense was highest in 2010 at 26.3 percent. By 2014, this figure had fallen to 23.91 percent, a decrease of nine percent. Other budget areas have changed to varying degrees, such as veterans benefits which increased from 4.1 percent in 2010  to 5.93 percent in 2014, a 45 percent increase.
    Although the White House characterizes the Federal Taxpayer Receipts as a promise kept by President Obama to let taxpayers easily know where their tax dollars are going, the administration also used the opportunity to take a dig at Republicans, providing a link to "See how two starkly different tax plans would impact you" where viewers can read about the president's "tax cuts for the middle class" and the Republicans' "giveaways for the wealthy few." In the end, the White House doesn't just want taxpayers to know where their money is going, but where everyone else's is going, too.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.