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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Never Ask Alison Lundergan Grimes for Defense Advice



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Wow. “The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.” — Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Kentucky.

The “Iron Dome” is an anti-missile air-defense system that shoots down incoming rockets, similar to the Patriot-missile batteries that the U.S. used in the Persian Gulf War.

It does not work underground.

Funny, she always looked like an expert on
military and national-security issues.

Tags: Alison Lundergan Grimes

Why the Pajamahadeen Shouldn’t Worry About the Rathergate Movie



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From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why the Pajamahadeen Shouldn’t Fear Hollywood’s Take on ‘Rathergate’

Megan McArdle spits hot fury over the news that Mythology Entertainment is making a movie about the Rathergate memo scandal . . . based upon the book of CBS producer Mary Mapes, who contended that the story was true and that those bloggers in pajamas who kept proving it wrong — including, ahem, me — are all mean and liars and right-wing maniacs and so on.

Mapes will be played by Cate Blanchett. Robert Redford is playing the man who reported the story on air, CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

I’ll give you a moment to process that.

As I noted, by playing Dan Rather, this will mark the second time Redford has played a character who was secretly a member of Hydra.

Above: Robert Redford, standing beside a decorative artwork
in his office, depicting the original logo for CBS News.

I should be outraged by this. As I mentioned in Raleigh, this is a good example for young journalists of how you can work hard, get your big break, help expose a lie, reveal the truth, and have a small role in changing the way people look at the world and powerful people . . . and then watch Hollywood stars glamorize the liars and make you the bad guy. (I’m guessing they’ll cast Jerry O’Connell to play some guy in little elephant pajamas. )

But I suppose that I shrug and dismiss this as sort of liberal cosplay. They really enjoy having glamorous actors put on costumes and make-up and reenact recent events, emphasizing the heroism of the people they like and often ludicrously caricaturing those they don’t like. You may recall Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA officer was leaked to columnist Robert Novak by Colin Powell’s right-hand man, Richard Armitage. She had her life turned into an action thriller . . . with car chases and explosions . . . where a sinister conspiracy at the heart of the Bush administration leaks her name . . . and Richard Armitage is never mentioned.

The Washington Post editorial board felt compelled to call out the myth-making:

In fact, “Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions — not to mention outright inventions. To start with the most sensational: The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false.

There’s practically a whole branch of HBO devoted to this sort of instant revisionism and dramatization: Recount, Game Change, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, where Sorkin basically rewrote news events and coverage of Obama’s early presidency the way he thought it should have gone . . . 

What the hell is with these smug revisionist historians, who take facts, take their own imagination, mix them together, slip in some cameo appearances by big-name political figures and think they can create a memorable, vivid, dramatic story that will influence the public’s viewpoint and memories of recent events . . . 

What’s that?

Oh. Yeah. That.

I guess I shrug because this is just the latest in Robert Redford’s series of exercises in moral inversion. His recent self-directed film The Company You Keep tried to argue that the 1960s radicals who planted bombs weren’t such bad guys . . . by making the convenient plot change that the wanted 1960s radical played by Redford didn’t actually commit the crime. Gee, that kind of changes things, doesn’t it? William Ayers doesn’t have the excuse of blaming the one-armed man.

And trying to rewrite Rathergate so that Rather and Mapes are the heroes is, I suspect, too much of a moral inversion for audiences to accept, in a story that will have no car chases, sex scenes, fistfights, gunfights, or aliens. (I mean, as far as I know.) They’ll have to argue that the famous network news anchor, with the giant network backing him, is the plucky heroic underdog, and that the bloggers — bloggers! — are the powerful, sinister villain.

When Robert Redford is pulling off a sting, running from the Bolivian police, hitting a baseball, whispering to a horse, or offering a million dollars to sleep with Demi Moore, everybody loves him. When he gets preachy, the work is usually insufferable. Lions for Lambs flopped. Come to think of it, so did Fair Game, and The Newsroom is in its final season. The appetite for making these instant revisionist-history pieces is significantly larger than the appetite for watching them.

So that’s why I’m not that worried about the Rathergate movie.

Tags: Dan Rather , CBS News , Bloggers , Hollywood , Pajamhadeen

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Psst: Ohio Governor John Kasich’s Reelection Bid Isn’t So Vulnerable Anymore



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Hey, remember when everyone talked about how vulnerable Ohio governor John Kasich was in his reelection bid? Yeah, not so much, it turns out.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic challenger in the race for Ohio governor, remains largely unknown and is gaining little ground against Republican Gov. John Kasich who leads 48 – 36 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

This compares to a 50 – 35 percent Kasich lead in a May 14 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University.

The traditional gender gap exists as men back the Republican 53 – 31 percent, while women are divided, with 43 percent for Gov. Kasich and 41 percent for FitzGerald. Kasich leads 92 – 2 percent among Republicans and 47 – 28 percent among independent voters, while Democrats go to FitzGerald 78 – 9 percent.

There are some on the right who are quite irked with Kasich for agreeing to expand Medicare as part of Obamacare’s implementation. Note that it’s not costing him much Republican support in his reelection bid.

The survey found 52 percent are “somewhat satisfied” with the way things are going in Ohio today, with 8 percent “very satisfied.” (Those 8 percent are probably Cleveland Cavaliers fans.) This is in fact the highest score Quinnipiac has found on this question in recent years.

Tags: John Kasich , Ohio , Ed Fitzgerald

The Coming Republican Takeover of . . . Illinois?



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How will President Obama feel when a Republican wins the governor’s race in his home state of Illinois?

Gov. Pat Quinn is facing an increasingly uphill battle against Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, a new We Ask America poll shows.

Rauner is now sitting on a 14-point lead in the poll that was conducted July 28, which is up from his 10-point lead he had in a June poll. Rauner’s boost can be attributed to his economic plan, which includes a state income tax reduction. A poll showed while people don’t believe Illinois can afford this plan, a majority say it makes them more likely to vote for him.

Reboot Illinois, which was founded by hedge fund manager Anne Dias Griffin, commissioned the poll by We Ask America, an independent polling subsidiary of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

Overall, if the election were held today, Rauner would pull in 47 percent of the vote, compared to Quinn’s 33 percent. Of those polled, 20 percent said they’re still undecided.

All 118 seats in the Illinois house of representatives and about one-third of the state-senate seats will also be on the ballot this year. Democrats have a 40-to-19 margin in the senate and a 71-to-47 margin in the house. But a big win by Rauner could create coattails, and it appears he and his campaign are investing money in an effort to make that happen:

Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz:

Thanks to heavy spending by wealthy gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner — and disgust within the GOP that it let the governor’s mansion slip away four years ago despite the Rod Blagojevich scandal — Illinois Republicans appear to be disciplined, organized and moving to win in a way they haven’t been in decades. And the Democrats know it.

One insider tells me that a combination of the state and national parties and the Rauner campaign is prepared to spend as much as $2 million just on an absentee ballot operation — perhaps seven or eight times as much as in 2010, when Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington lost to Gov. Pat Quinn.

Another source reports that the party has opened 20 field offices just in the collar counties. In comparison, Mr. Brady had three offices in the entire state.

Notice the momentum and bandwagon effect:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to Chicago Friday and gave Republican Bruce Rauner $2.5 million.

With that the Republican Governors Association more than doubled its financial support of Rauner’s campaign for governor.

Tags: Illinois , Pat Quinn , Bruce Rauner

Can We Reach the Point of ‘No More Hamas’?



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From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Can We Reach the Point of ‘No More Hamas’?

The number one export of the Gaza Strip is textiles. Number two is rockets. Number three is headaches. They have a particularly enthusiastic immigration policy, consisting of kidnappings.

The whole region’s full of other people digging for archeological relics, antiquities, minerals, and oil . . . and somehow Hamas digs massive tunnels just so they can kidnap people.

Everybody else on the Mediterranean makes a killing on tourism; the Palestinians and their allies kill tourists. The Palestinians have Bethlehem — the birthplace of Christ! One of the biggest potential tourism attractions in the history of the world! — and beachfront property, and yet somehow they continue to have a struggling economy. Maybe if the children’s programming featured less encouragement of mass murder and more basic economics and entrepreneurship.

Killer bees.

We’re used to these brief, intermittent rocket-firing spats between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel crosses over into Lebanon in 1978 to hunt the PLO, Israel moves out later that same year; they annex the Golan Heights in 1981; they move back into Lebanon in 1982, withdraw in 1986. They move into Hebron, they withdraw from Hebron. They withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah kidnaps two soldiers in 2006, and a second war against Hezbollah begins and ends a few weeks later.

What if this one doesn’t end after a few weeks? What if this one goes on longer, until there’s effectively no more Hamas?

At least there would be some sense of resolution to this mess, wouldn’t there?

It sounds like Israel wants to attempt something like that:

Israel slammed Gaza with a barrage of airstrikes overnight in what was the heaviest bombardment in the three-week conflict. At least 60 died in the strikes in Gaza overnight.

Symbols of Hamas control came under fire, including TV headquarters, government offices and the home of a top leader. Israel said it targeted more than 70 sites and hit 10 “terror operatives.”

The Gaza Strip’s only power plant was struck by a tank shell, hitting a fuel tank and causing the plant to shut down, the head of the power station told ABC News. Fire burned following the attack, with heavy smoke rising over Gaza City. Engineer Fatahi Khalil, from the electricity company, confirmed to ABC News that it will take a year to fix the power plant. The damage will be assessed at a later time, he said.

The pounding came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a televised speech of a “prolonged” campaign in Gaza.

John Podhoretz scoffs at the emerging “Israel is really losing the conflict” narrative:

How is Israel losing? Oh, it seems Israel is getting bad press.

What else is new? What else is new about any of it?

Is Israel isolated in Europe? That isolation has been deepening for a decade. Has Barack Obama turned unfriendly? Well, his unfriendliness is far from new, as this piece of mine from July 2009 would suggest. Has the incursion led to an increase in overt anti-Semitism? Well, if so, any effort to excuse away such monstrousness by citing this war is nothing less than an act of blaming-the-victim. If Israel were to restrain itself from countering a mortal threat because it feared the promulgation of documents like this, it would be betraying its own reason for existence: a homeland for the Jewish people that needed and needs to exist precisely because of sentiments that help create documents like these — sentiments that are then turned into action, and into Kristallnacht, and into gas chambers.

See, anti-Israel folks? When you guys sound like a broken record, and can barely mumble some pro forma denunciations of Hamas, all of the pro-Israel folks tune you out. Most of us like Israel, for a whole host of reasons: the democracy, the religious pluralism, the freedom of expression, the nation’s seemingly endless stockpiles of attractive women carrying automatic weapons, Wonder Woman.

But even if we didn’t like Israel, for the average American, there’s nothing admirable about the other side. What, did Yassir Arafat stir warm feelings of admiration? Hamas? Hezbollah? Iran? Syria? Sure, not every Palestinian danced in the street on 9/11. But some did. Enough did to earn the enmity of millions of Americans.

Trust me, Hamas, that’s not an image Americans will find warm and fuzzy.

Also note that the world is at outrage overload right now. Russia’s buddies just shot an airliner out of the sky. Every Central American “Oliver Twist” just showed up on our doorsteps in the past few weeks. Those Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing. ISIS and their allies are clear-cutting Christians in the Middle East. The death of 1,000 Palestinians is awful . . . but right next door, in Syria, about 170,000 have been killed in the civil war there. In Iraq, ISIS is implementing mandatory genital mutilation for women.

And we’re supposed to get upset about Israel’s tactics against Hamas being too harsh?

Why does that seem to bother our secretary of state more than every other abominable crime going on in the world?

And why is he so determined to implement a cease-fire when Israel might be on the verge of changing the dynamics on the ground by actually removing Hamas from the situation?

David Ignatius:

Secretary of State John Kerry has made a significant mistake in how he’s pursuing a Gaza cease-fire — and it’s not surprising that he has upset both the Israelis and some moderate Palestinians.

Kerry’s error has been to put so much emphasis on achieving a quick halt to the bloodshed that he has solidified the role of Hamas, the intractable, unpopular Islamist group that leads Gaza, along with the two hard-line Islamist nations that are its key supporters, Qatar and Turkey. In the process, he has undercut not simply the Israelis but also the Egyptians and the Fatah movement that runs the Palestinian Authority, all of which want to see an end to Hamas rule in Gaza.

Tags: Israel , Hamas , Middle East , Palestinian Authority , John Kerry

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Come See Me in Raleigh Today!



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A gentle reminder: I’ll be speaking and signing books today at noon at the John Locke Foundation
 in Raleigh, N.C. The title of my remarks is “The Weed Agency — The Funny and All Too Real Struggle Against Big Government,” but who knows what I’ll end up speaking about during the Q&A. A $10 fee includes lunch.

The John Locke Foundation is at 200 W Morgan St., Suite 200, in Raleigh.

Tags: Something Lighter , The Weed Agency

New CBS and CNN Polls That Should Frighten Democrats



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From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

The Massive New York Times & CBS Poll That Should Frighten Democrats

The New York Times and CBS News tried a massive endeavor to collect a lot more polling data from everywhere in the country. The results — even if they’re iffy, and it’s only late July — should send a chill down the spine of every Democrat:

On Sunday, the research firm YouGov, in partnership with The New York Times and CBS News, released the first wave of results from an online panel of more than 100,000 respondents nationwide, which asked them their preferences in coming elections. The results offer a trove of nonpartisan data and show a broad and competitive playing field heading into the final few months of the campaign.

The Republicans appear to hold a slight advantage in the fight for the Senate and remain in a dominant position in the House. They need to pick up six seats to gain Senate control, and they hold a clear advantage in races in three states: South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia. The data from YouGov, an opinion-research firm that enjoyed success in 2012, finds the G.O.P. with a nominal lead in five additional states.

The five states where the Republicans hold a slight lead in the YouGov panel include three Southern ones — Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — where Democratic incumbents face tough re-election contests and where Mitt Romney won in 2012. Republicans also have a slight edge in Iowa and Michigan, two open seats in states that usually vote for Democrats in presidential elections.

At the link, they discuss their methodology, the steps they took to ensure their online sample reflected the population of offline voters, etc. If you want to dismiss that, and conclude it’s just an online poll, fine. That’s your choice.

A couple of reasons to find these results plausible:

It’s not all roses and sunshine for Republicans. In Colorado, Cory Gardner, one of the stronger GOP challengers, trails Sen. Mark Udall, 47 percent to 51 percent. In Alaska, Begich leads both challengers listed. In the two GOP-held seats that the party needs to keep, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is up 4 and in Georgia, Purdue is up 6 on Michelle Nunn — neither margin is particularly overwhelming in states that are deep red in presidential elections.

There aren’t a lot of results that look wacky. In four of the Senate races where the GOP candidate leads, the margins are 2 percentage points or less — Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Bill Cassidy in Louisiana, and Terri Lynn Land in Michigan. Flip those, and Republicans only gain four seats, a sum most on the Right would find disappointing.

If there’s a thumb on the scale, it’s the wrong one. If you think of the New York Times and CBS News as liberal news organizations, these results are an argument against interest.

Now throw in this poll result:

Americans are so down on President Obama at the moment that, if they could do the 2012 election all over again, they’d overwhelmingly back the former Massachusetts governor’s bid. That’s just one finding in a brutal CNN poll, released Sunday, which shows Romney topping Obama in a re-election rematch by a whopping nine-point margin, 53 percent to 44 percent. That’s an even larger spread than CNN found in November, when a survey had Romney winning a redo 49 percent to 45 percent.

Two years ago, Obama won re-election with about 51 percent of the vote.

An electorate that’s disappointed and frustrated with Obama is not going to turn out to vote for Democrats. They’ll either vote for Republicans or stay home.

Tags: Polling , Midterms , Barack Obama

Special IG Report: Afghans Losing Track of U.S-Provided Weapons



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The U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction just released a report revealing that the Afghan military and police forces are doing a poor job of keeping track of the weapons provided to them by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The report by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko
offers a chilling conclusion:

Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the Afghan National Secrity Forces, and Afghan civilians.

As of December 30, 2013, the Pentagon had provided more than 747,000 weapons and auxiliary equipment to the Afghan military and police, valued at approximately $626 million. That sum includes 465,000 small arms — rifles and pistols — and the report concludes that controls over the accountability of small arms provided to the Afghans are insufficient both before and after the weapons are handed over to them.

The Department of Defense uses two weapons-inventory systems, the Security Cooperation Information Portal and the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database (OVERLORD). The two systems are not linked to each other, and the review found missing, duplicate, and incomplete information within both systems.

The report does not offer a reassuring portrait of the Afghan National Police, reporting that the police don’t have an established and reliable system for keeping track of weapons and limited prospects for developing one:

With regard to the ANP, it currently has no standardized or automated system to account for weapons. Per [U.S.] officials, the record accounting system called the “Universal Listing of Transactions for Record Accounting” has been under development since 2010 for ANP depot inventories, but the system has yet to be fielded as of the time of our audit report, and DOD has not determined an implementation date. The ANP instead rely on a combination of hard copy, hand written records, and some Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to maintain inventory records.

According to [U.S.] officials, efforts to develop the capabilities of ANSF personnel to manage the central depots have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel and frequent turnover of Afghan staff.

Auditors from the Inspector General’s office checked the inventories of weapons at four facilities in Afghanistan: the Afghan National Army Kandahar Regional Military Training Center, the Afghan National Police National Supply Depot, the 1st Afghan National Civil Order Police Garrison Facility, and the Afghan National Army Central Supply Depot. The inspectors found satisfactory results at the first three sites, but the total number of weapons ANA Central Supply Depot differed greatly from the available records.

Checking the inventory at the supply depot against the records, the inspector general’s staff found 24 M2 machine guns, four M48 machine guns, and 740 M16 rifles missing from the depot. The inventory also found 80 more M24 sniper rifles than the records indicated should be there, 191 more M48 rifles, and 82 M9 Beretta pistols.

The report also found that the problem of lost weapons is likely to get worse in the coming years. The Afghan National Army and police forces changed the weapons that they use several times in recent years, leading to a surplus. According to the analysis of the inspector general’s office, the Afghan military and police force already have more than 112,000 weapons that exceed their current requirements. Records for disposing of excess weapons are spotty at best.

In a written response to the IG report, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael J. Dumont said he concurred in part, and aimed to communicate the concerns to the Afghan government. But he cautioned that the U.S. has no authority to require the Afghan forces to “perform a 100 percent inventory of small arms transferred to them by DoD” and that “the DoD does not have the authority to recover or destroy Afghan weapons.”

This morning’s release is the latest in a series of reports from the IG office offering a troubling portrait of the U.S. effort to leave a stable Afghan government after its military withdrawal. Other reports have detailed U.S.-provided planes unlikely to be used by the Afghan Air Force, U.S.-built barracks and medical facilities made of particularly flammable materials, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to promote soybean farming that may not be viable, and a $2.89 million food-processing facility that was never used.

Have you seen this M2 machine gun, and 23 like it?

Tags: Afghanistan

William F. Buckley, Recurring Pop Culture Icon



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In today’s Morning Jolt, I asked readers for any long-forgotten references to National Review in popular culture. The other day in the office, other NRO-niks and I tried to come up with all the movies and television shows that have referenced or mentioned National Review Annie Hall, obviously; spider-killing is proud tradition at NR. Tom Selleck picked up a copy of National Review in an episode of Magnum, P.I. Robin Williams’s Genie briefly imitated William F. Buckley in Aladdin. NBC’s Community offered a bizarre reference, although perhaps the magazine needs a “Make-Out Meter.”

Readers already offered three we missed.

First, perhaps the best thing you’ll see all day: This bit of brilliance from the old Canadian sketch comedy series, SCTV, featuring Joe Flaherty as William F. Buckley, Catherine O’Hara as Jane Fonda, and Martin Short as Tom Hayden:

Then, from the old WB animated series Animaniacs, Yakko Warner briefly morphs into “William Yakkley, Jr.” in a segment that features a Sam Donaldson clone, “Fonaldson.”

Finally, Dustin Hoffman said he based his Captain Hook in 1991’s big-budget “Hook” upon Buckley’s voice and mannerisms.

Tags: WFB , Pop Culture , Something Lighter

Strange, Obama Never Seems Disengaged from Partisan Politics



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The last Morning Jolt of the week notes worsening developments with Russia, as the president visits fundraisers and a deli in Los Angeles.

This morning Charles Krauthammer tries to explain what’s going on with our president:

The preferred explanation for the president’s detachment is psychological. He’s checked out. Given up. Let down and disappointed by the world, he is in withdrawal.

Perhaps. But I’d propose an alternate theory that gives him more credit: Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it. He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is one of Obama’s favorite sayings. Ultimately, injustice and aggression don’t pay. The Soviets saw their 20th-century empire dissolve. More proximally, U.S. gains in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in time, liquidated. Ozymandias lies forever buried and forgotten in desert sands.

That’s probably a piece of the puzzle; Obama, like most of us, gravitates towards a perceived solution that doesn’t require him to do anything difficult. But notice Obama doesn’t rely on “the arc of the moral universe” in the domestic sphere or dealing with his opponents in the United States. He’s not relying on karma, fate, or the law of unintended consequences in his push for a domestic agenda.

Tags: Barack Obama , Russia

Judge Tosses GreenTech Lawsuit Against Watchdog.org



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Good news for the good folks at the Franklin Center and Watchdog.org:

A U.S. judge in Mississippi on Thursday threw out an $85-million lawsuit in which an electric car company founded by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe alleged Watchdog.org had libeled the firm.

Judge Michael P. Mills said GreenTech Automotive failed to prove his Mississippi court had jurisdiction over Watchdog.org’s parent, Virginia-based Franklin Center, and Watchdog’s Virginia reporter, Kenric Ward.

The judge’s order noted that Watchdog’s “articles were not aimed at Mississippi” or even GreenTech itself.

“The articles were aimed at McAuliffe and his bid to become Governor of Virginia, and McAuliffe sustained the ‘brunt of the harm’ of the published articles while GreenTech allegedly suffered from the residuary effects of the articles,” Mills said.

McAuliffe, of course, will have to console himself with the governorship for the next three and a half years.

Tags: GreenTech , Terry McAuliffe

Even Obama’s Big Donors Are Getting Tired of His Fundraisers



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Inevitable:

President Obama hit the Bay Area for a fast cash-and-grab fundraising drive Wednesday, but there were signs that even in one of the nation’s most reliable Democratic ATMs, donor fatigue is setting in.

That SFGate article notes that Obama has made 18 trips to the Bay Area during his presidency.

There’s even an indication that the president is just going through the motions:

The president’s perfunctory stump speech at the fundraiser — at least the portion witnessed by the press pool, which was ushered out for the question-and-answer session — reprised the same themes he addressed in his last visit to the Bay Area. He made no mention in his public remarks of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Gaza, the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane over Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine or other current events.

Tags: Barack Obama

$34 Million USDA Program to Grow Soybeans in Afghanistan ‘May Not Be Viable’



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All of what you are about to read is true; this is not a giant promotional scheme for the book.

The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction published a review of its inquiry into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $34.4 million soybean program in Afghanistan. The American Soybean Association submitted the program proposal and a funding request to USDA. The inspector general’s office report expressed “concerns about the viability of the project and the apparent lack of analysis and planning performed prior to the project’s initiation.”

The report found:

* Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented by ASA.

* The ASA did not conduct feasibility studies prior to initiation of the project in 2010.

* USDA provided $34.4 million to ASA despite the lack of prior planning and analysis, and despite evidence that may have put the success of the program in doubt.

* The sustainability of the soybean-processing facility is in serious doubt because Afghan farmers are not cultivating soybeans in sufficient quantity to make it economically viable, nor is there any significant demand for soybean products in Afghanistan.

* The significant problems creating a market for soybean products in Afghanistan should have been expected, since Afghans apparently have never grown or eaten soybeans before.

Inspector General John Sopko wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:

I understand that Afghanistan’s operating environment poses daunting challenges for reconstruction and development programs, and that any project in the country is bound to meet its fair share of difficulties. However, what is troubling about this particular project is that it appears that many of these problems could reasonably have been foreseen and, therefore, possibly avoided.

He recommended “that USDA thoroughly review the process by which the Food for Progress program evaluates project proposals and makes its final selections.”

Above: Part of your $34 million in tax dollars at work in Afghanistan.

Had I written about this in the book, everyone would have said the novel jumped the shark and became implausible.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste

In Sum, the Morning’s News Is Bad. Bad, Bad, Bad.



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No getting around it; the roundup in today’s Morning Jolt is grim.

Today’s News: Bad. Bad, Bad, Bad.

Let me save you a bunch of time: All the news overseas is bad this morning. Bad, bad, bad.

Breaking news out of Algeria:

An Air Algeria-operated MD83 carrying 116 passengers and crew disappeared en route from Burkina Faso in Africa to Algiers, the aircraft’s owner said.

The plane, which took off in the west African country shortly after midnight, was supposed to land at 05:10 a.m. local time, Swiftair, a charter company based in Spain said in a statement today. The plane carried 110 passengers and six crew.

“There has been no contact with the plane until now,” Swiftair said. “Emergency teams and the company’s personnel are working to figure out what happened and will notify people as further information is available.”

Ukraine:

While Kiev made significant advances against rebels in the country’s east in recent days, Ukrainian and U.S. officials say Russian weapons are continuing to pour over the border. The escalation in fighting suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intention of dialing back his support for the separatists, denting Western hopes that international attention from the airliner crash would force him to change course.

Russia:

On almost any other issue you can think of, Russian views differ radically from the consensus here in America. Russians have extremely different opinions about the conflict in Syria, viewing the war in that unlucky country not as a brave struggle for freedom but as a chaotic war of all against all. They have different views about the war in Libya, where they see the overthrow of Gaddafi not as a new beginning but as the start of chaos and disorder. They have different views about 9/11, with shockingly large numbers of Russians supporting “alternate” explanations of one of history’s most carefully studied and well-documented terrorist attacks. (I was recently asked what “theory” of the attacks I supported only to be told that it was “my opinion” after I noted that al-Qaeda was clearly and obviously responsible.) Even something as seemingly straightforward and non-political as a meteor strike attracted a range of bizarre theories and pseudo-scientific “explanations” like the onset of an alien invasion or the testing of a new American super weapon. These wacky ideas (“the aliens are attacking Siberia!” “The grand masons are responsible for 9/11!”) would be extremely funny if they didn’t represent such a tragic deficit of reason.

A tiny bit of good news in Israel:

Israel Defense Forces said it hit 35 terror targets overnight. A day earlier, the number was 187.

The Israeli military also reported a sharp fall in the number of rockets fired from Gaza in the early hours of Thursday, although as the day wore on, more rockets were lofted toward Israel, some in the direction of the international airport in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli military said it captured 150 “terrorist suspects” in Gaza Wednesday.

Another tiny bit of good news:

Under pressure from Israeli and American officials, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted a temporary ban on flights by American carriers to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport late on Wednesday night.

The European airlines are reinstating flights.

Now back onto the bad news . . . 

France:

Unable to reach the Grand Synagogues of Sarcelles, some of the rioters smashed shop windows in this poor suburb where tens of thousands of Jews live amid many Muslims. They torched two cars and threw a firebomb at a nearby, smaller synagogue, which was only lightly damaged. It was the ninth synagogue attack in France since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two weeks ago.

Belgium:

Police removed a sign from a Belgian cafe saying that Jews were not allowed following a complaint by an anti-Semitism watchdog.

Germany:

The German government reassured Jews living in Germany that they should feel safe in the face of anti-semitic chants and threats heard at some of the protests against Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza, and said such behavior would not be tolerated.

From now on, no Europeans are allowed to brag about how sophisticated they are.

Tags: Israel , Europe , Russia

Bruce Braley, Missing a Few — Okay, 75 Percent — of Veterans Committee Meetings



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Tough day for Democratic Senate candidates. Below you see the news about Montana senator John Walsh, and now bad news for Representative Bruce Braley, running in Iowa:

Over a two-year period, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley missed 75 percent of meetings for a committee that provides oversight over the Veterans Administration, including one meeting on a day he attended three fundraisers for his 2012 campaign.

Look, it’s not like the VA needed a lot of close oversight in recent years, right?

Tags: Bruce Braley

Goodbye, Montana Democratic Sen. John Walsh



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Montana senator John Walsh, a Democrat and recent appointee, was an underdog yesterday. He’s pretty much toast today:

An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.

Awaiting comment from Vice President Joe Biden, who is waiting to see what Neil Kinnock says first.

Tags: John Walsh

Obama on Our Dangerous World: ‘We’re Not Quite Yet Where We Need to Be’



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We will spend a good portion of the next two and a half years wondering about the president’s psychological condition. At yesterday’s DNC fundraiser, he declared,

The world has never been healthier, it has never been wealthier, it has never been more tolerant, there’s never been more opportunity than there is today.

Are you feeling it, America?

This was the president’s assessment of the state of the world today:

THE PRESIDENT: And yet, despite all this, people are anxious. Now, some of that has to do with some big challenges overseas. I am very proud that we have ended one war, and by the end of this year we will have ended both wars that I inherited before I came into office. [Applause.] But whether people see what’s happening in Ukraine, and Russia’s aggression towards its neighbors in the manner in which it’s financing and arming separatists; to what’s happened in Syria — the devastation that Assad has wrought on his own people; to the failure in Iraq for Sunni and Shia and Kurd to compromise — although we’re trying to see if we can put together a government that actually can function; to ongoing terrorist threats; to what’s happening in Israel and Gaza — part of people’s concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn’t holding and we’re not quite yet to where we need to be in terms of a new order that’s based on a different set of principles, that’s based on a sense of common humanity, that’s based on economies that work for all people.

Also note the president’s declaration:

Sometimes when you’re watching the news — which I generally don’t do because I — [laughter] — whatever they’re reporting on I usually know about — but it can get depressing, right?

This from the president who said he was not aware of the Veterans Affairs scandal, the Department of Justice’s seizing the records of the Associated Press, the IRS scandal, the Fast and Furious scandal, and spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany until he heard about it from media reports . . . 

Tags: Barack Obama

Our Sudden De Facto Travel Ban on Israel



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From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Our Sudden De Facto Travel Ban on Israel

If your direct flight from New York to Tel Aviv suddenly turns around in the eastern Mediterranean and heads back to Paris . . . do you get the frequent-flyer miles for the new longer route?

Perhaps there’s a bit of logic to the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to bar all flights into Tel Aviv — after the shoot-down in the Ukrainian skies, surely everyone in the aviation world is more jittery than usual. But by barring flights, we’re giving Hamas what they want. We’re stopping all U.S. flights into Tel Aviv for 24 hours . . . and then what?

We’ve just told Hamas that we’ll stop our flights into Israel whenever they hit near the airport. The airport is well within range; it’s just a matter of firing enough until one gets through the Iron Dome air-defense system and scaring away air travelers.

With the U.S. decision, most European carriers announced they were cancelling flights to Israel, too. Cruise ships are altering their courses and canceling stops in Israel. Think about it, this is a de facto travel ban to Israel. (Anybody arriving in Israel by boat or overland right now? Didn’t think so.) Right now our State Department merely recommends against traveling to North Korea. Right now you can book a flight from a U.S. airport to Havana, Cuba, or Caracas, Venezuela. But you can’t fly to Tel Aviv . . . with one exception.

Israeli airline El Al is still flying . . . and a guy most folks on the Right don’t like very much is taking a bold stand:

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg is heading to Israel Tuesday night, flying on El Al in a show of unity with the Jewish state while U.S. and European airlines are canceling flights amid deadly fighting in Gaza.

“This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement emailed by former City Hall spokesman Marc La Vorgna shortly after 8 p.m.

“Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely,” Bloomberg continued. “The U.S. flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel.”

Bloomberg will be accompanied by one aide and, during his brief stay, plans to meet with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, La Vorgna said.

This sure feels like a backdoor way to pressure Israel to accept a cease-fire on terms it doesn’t like.

Tags: Israel , Obama , FAA

Obama Pledges to Dutch, ‘We Will Not Rest,’ Heads to Fundraisers



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Of course:

Obama’s schedule for the rest of the day:

President Obama’s fundraising swing through the Seattle area Tuesday will include a high-priced dinner event benefiting a Democratic super PAC. The event is at the Hunts Point home of former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and his wife, Jan, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Seattle Times. The price tag for the event is $25,000 per person, with proceeds going to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group that accepts unlimited donations . . . 

The event at Sinegal’s home is in addition to an earlier scheduled fundraiser at the Seattle waterfront home of Bruce and Ann Blume, who were fundraising “bundlers” for Obama’s 2012 campaign. The afternoon event will benefit the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The man has a busy schedule to keep.

Tags: Barack Obama , DNC , Russia , Dutch

The EPA Plays a Kardashian Game While Toxic Smoke Burns in Afghanistan



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The Environmental Protection Agency, hard at work, as ever: “Just last night, government officials at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water sent out a tweet confirming they’ve achieved C-list status in the game.”

Let’s face it, “C-list celebrity” is a really accurate label for this lame-duck administration. 

Meanwhile, in environmental news on the other side of the world

In May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $4.4 million contract to construct solid waste management facilities, including two incinerators, at Shindand Airbase, a coalition base located in Herat province in western Afghanistan housing approximately 4,000 U.S. and Afghan military personnel and contractors. At the time of the contract award, Shindand Airbase was primarily using open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its solid waste. In addition to the two U.S. Forces- Afghanistan-operated incinerators, in September 2009 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $11 million contract for incinerators at various bases for use by the Afghan military…

A May 2013 U.S. Forces-Afghanistan evaluation found that the Afghan-operated incinerators were in operable condition and the Afghans had been trained and had the proper equipment to operate their incinerators; however, the Afghans did not use them because the burn pits were cheaper to operate.

CENTCOM commented that the Afghans fail to use the incinerators because they do not perceive that the health benefits of using the incinerators are worth the cost of the fuel to run them. Nevertheless, CENTCOM stated that coalition leadership continues to encourage the ANSF to use the incinerators.

Toxic smoke emanating from Afghan burn pits poses a threat to the health of coalition personnel serving with Afghans at Shindand Airbase and will not be confined to the Afghan-controlled side of the base.

 

 

Tags: EPA , Afghanistan

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