The Week in Pictures: Barack ORobinHood Edition

Not much more to say about Obama’s deflated football of a State of the Union speech, but is there some kind of way we can float Obama and Michael Moore away on a one-person life raft somewhere? (more…)

Final Preview: Miss Universe 2014

The finale of the 2014 Miss Universe pageant is Sunday evening on NBC, at 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central. And no, that isn’t a typo. They must know it’s 2015, but this is indeed the 2014 Miss Universe pageant.

And a good one it has been. The contestants have been in Miami for the last three weeks engaging in a variety of activities, which are documented at the Miss Universe site. If you have somehow missed our prior posts on the pageant, we have featured some of our favorite contestants and covered the only political controversy to arise so far here, here, here and here. Why so much coverage? Two reasons: First, Miss Universe is now the premier international beauty pageant, by far, in part because, unlike Miss World, it retains the traditional swimsuit competition. Also, it excels in social media and marketing generally. Whether the fact that Donald Trump owns it is a plus or a minus is up to you. Second, whom would you rather write about, Barack Obama or Miss Puerto Rico? I rest my case.

You can actually waste quite a bit of time following the Miss Universe pageant. Not only can you look at photos of all of the contestants and a multitude of videos on the pageant’s site, you also can watch brief interviews with all of the contestants on YouTube. The preliminary evening gown and swimsuit competition was on Wednesday, and you can watch the whole thing here. It is around two hours long; the swimsuit portion starts about midway through.

You can also bet on the competition. I am not sure who does that, but the action seems to be pretty lively. And we have a news flash: there is a new betting favorite, supplanting the home country entrant, Miss USA. Miss Colombia, Paulina Vega, is now the favorite, at odds ranging from 2 1/2 to 5 to 1, which seem like awfully short odds for such a strong field. Here is Miss Colombia during the preliminary competition on Wednesday:

web Colombia

Like a lot of Latin American beauty queens, Miss Vega is not exactly an underdog: she is the daughter of a cardiologist and the granddaughter of a famous tenor. Her grandmother was Miss Atlántico 1953. She has been a model since she was eight and speaks several languages. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

The next betting favorites are contestants we have already pictured and profiled: Miss USA, Miss Venezuela, Miss India. I don’t think we have pictured Miss Spain:

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By the way, if you have ever wondered: surgical enhancement is not against the rules of the major international beauty pageants.

Miss Philippines is the next favorite among bettors:

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Those are all terrific contestants, and probably one of them will win the crown. There are lots of other strong competitors. For example, Miss Czech Republic:

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Miss Angola has zoomed up the leader board and now sits at 24-1. I am not sure how serious a contender she is, but if they gave an award for most impressive physique, she might win it:

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This year, as is usually the case, my personal favorites are not among those preferred by bettors. What’s more, they haven’t changed since the first post I did on this year’s pageant. Miss Gabon, Maggaly Nguema–cutest entrant in this year’s pageant? I say yes. Plus, how can you not like someone who generally goes barefoot and campaigns for equal treatment for victims of leprosy?

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Then we have Miss Puerto Rico, Gabriela Berrios. In her official, glamorous pageant shots, she looks great, but pretty much like a generic beauty contestant:

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But if you check out her candid shots on Instagram, she is pretty angelic:

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One more:

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By the way: if you have never been to Puerto Rico? You should go.

And, finally, we have Miss Israel, Doron Matalon. She is a legitimate beauty queen but also a formidable character: she is a former assistant to the Commander of Israeli Central Command and has been pictured rock climbing as well as frolicking in Miami pools. Miss Matalon is a bit of a trouble-maker, having been involved in the pageant’s only political controversy. She published on her Instagram feed a photo of herself with, among others, Miss Lebanon. Consternation in the Arab world ensued. We wrote about that controversy here. Still, apart from anything else, Miss Matalon is a strong contender. Like Miss Puerto Rico, she is a master of social media and has made a big impression over the last few weeks:

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So there you have it. Tune in Sunday evening to see who wins the Miss Universe crown.

Why did Netanyahu accept Boehner’s invitation?

The Obama administration reportedly is fuming over Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to accept Speaker Boehner’s invitation to address Congress, which Netanyahu made without consulting the White House. The Israeli Prime Minister will “pay a price,” an administration official told an Israeli newspaper.

Obama has perfected the art of ginning up grievances against Netanyahu and using them to seek concessions from Israel, as Netanyahu tries to smooth things over. I assume there’s an element of this at play in the current dispute, but the way Netanyahu handled this situation really does look like a finger in Obama’s eye.

Why, then, did Netanyahu agree to speak to Congress without first consulting with the White House?

At one level, the answer seems straightforward. Netanyahu wanted badly to speak to Congress, and he knew that if he consulted Obama, the president would urge him not to. Better to come without consulting than to come after being told by the president not to.

But why did Netanyahu badly want to address Congress? Three possible explanations come quickly to mind: the political, the personal, and the substantive.

Netanyahu will soon face an election. Thus, as with any politician, we should consider the possibility that political considerations caused him to act as he did here.

I don’t know enough about current Israeli politics to assess how speaking before Congress is likely to affect Netanyahu’s electoral prospects. On the plus side, he will make a highly publicized address to an extremely prestigious body. On the minus side, his relations with Obama will become even more chilly.

Do the pluses outweigh the minuses? Again, I don’t know.

On a personal level, Netanyahu must relish sticking it to Obama with this speech. But I doubt that personal satisfaction would trump political and substantive policy considerations on a matter as important as this one.

The third explanation is that Netanyahu has become convinced that the situation is now so desperate for Israel that he must rally Congress. The problem isn’t so much that Obama is negotiating ineptly; it’s that Obama appears to be negotiating out of a desire for detente with Iran, not a desire to keep it from going nuclear. Meanwhile, Iran appears to be making progress in developing a nuclear capability.

But does Netanyahu believe that speaking to Congress will turn the tide? Congress already seems prepared to pass sanctions legislation. No speech by Netanyahu is needed to bring this about.

The problem is that Obama will veto the legislation and the votes to override the veto may not be there. Will a Netanyahu speech will generate those votes?

I doubt it. The votes will have to come from Democrats. If anything, the Dems may be less inclined to override their president’s veto in the face of what looks like a slight of Obama by Israel’s leader.

Since none of the three explanations I have offered seems solid, let’s try a fourth one.

If Netanyahu has given up on Obama, but believes that Israel faces an imminent threat, he will have to consider the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran (assuming he is reelected). Perhaps Netanyahu’s speech is intended to prepare the public relations battlefield for such a strike.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I don’t think it should be ruled out as a possible explanation.

Finally, what if Netanyahu’s strategy is to make the White House believe he has given up on Obama and is laying the ground work for an attack on Iran? In this scenario, Netanyahu isn’t trying to influence Congress as much as he’s trying to sway Obama in one desperate effort to dissuade him from appeasing the Iranian regime.

To me, Netanyahu’s behavior looks look a plea for help from interests and entities on this shore. I’m just not sure which ones.

The Power Line Show, Episode 8: Exploring Contemporary Conservative Political Philosophy

This afternoon we recorded an extraordinary edition of the Power Line Show: Steve Hayward and Scott Johnson talking about two of the towering conservative intellects of their generation, Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns, life-long allies and antagonists HouseDivided04who died on the same day earlier this month. Steve studied under Jaffa (who was a pupil of Leo Strauss) and later was a colleague of Berns; Scott is a long-time student of both men, especially Jaffa, whose Crisis of the House Divided changed Scott’s life. I was on hand to ask the sorts of questions our listeners would have asked, if they had the chance. Among many other things, if you want to know whether the Declaration of Independence is still important, and why the Lincoln-Douglas debates could still be held today, this podcast is for you. It is one of my favorites, although it is just a half hour long. Don’t miss it!

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Leo Strauss on the Death of Churchill

Always worth taking in Leo Strauss’s spontaneous remarks in class in Chicago in January 1965, upon learning the news of Churchill’s death:

The death of Churchill is a healthy reminder to academic students of political science of their limitations, the limitations of their craft.

The tyrant stood at the pinnacle of his power. The contrast between the indomitable and magnanimous statesman and the insane tyrant—this spectacle in its clear simplicity was one of the greatest lessons which men can learn, at any time.

No less enlightening is the lesson conveyed by Churchill’s failure which is too great to be called tragedy. I mean the fact that Churchill’s heroic action on behalf of human freedom against Hitler only contributed, through no fault of Churchill’s, to increase the threat to freedom which is posed by Stalin or his successors. Churchill did the utmost that a man could do to counter that threat—publicly and most visibly in Greece and in Fulton, Missouri. Not a whit less important than his deeds and speeches are his writings, above all his Marlborough—the greatest historical work written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding, which should be required reading for every student of political science.

The death of Churchill reminds us of the limitations of our craft, and therewith of our duty. We have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students, of political greatness, human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence. For we are supposed to train ourselves and others in seeing things as they are, and this means above all in seeing their greatness and their misery, their excellence and their vileness, their nobility and their triumphs, and therefore never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness.

Why Obama parrots Tehran’s talking points

Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Democrat, spoke for many of us when he characterized the administration as parroting Iran’s talking points on nuclear negotiations. But it isn’t just in the realm of nuclear talks that Obama acquiesces to Iranian positions. Charles Krauthammer points out that the administration is also acquiescing to Iranian domination of Syria, having told the New York Times that it is abandoning its long-stated goal of removing Assad.

Why is Obama taking positions so obviously pro-Iranian as to upset stalwarts in his own Party? The answer, as I have argued before, is that Obama sees Iran as the rising power in the region, and sees a grand bargain with the clerics as the solution to our woes in the Middle East.

Obama may well be correct on the first count. Iran has made great strides towards gaining a Middle East empire, as Krauthammer documents. Once it obtains nukes, it will be that much closer to regional triumph.

But what is the basis for believing that Iranian ascendancy is in America’s interests? No nation in the region has been more hostile towards the U.S. than Iran. No nation anywhere has been responsible for more American deaths since the mullahs came to power. No other nation in the region poses a direct threat our homeland via long range missiles that soon could contain nuclear warheads.

Terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS probably pose a greater threat to our homeland than Iran does. But there is no reason to believe that an ascendant Iran would help us defeat or minimize that threat.

Iran is committed to keeping pro-Iranian regimes in power in Syria and Iraq, but has never shown the will or the capacity to help them take back all of their territory. Thus, Iranian ascendancy is not inconsistent with ISIS and/or al Qaeda holding large chunks of land which they can use as a base for terrorizing the West.

Why, then, does the “grand bargain” option hold so much appeal for Obama. For several reasons, I believe.

First, it appeals to his intellectual arrogance. Those close to Obama say he sees international politics as an “intellectual puzzle to be solved.” While others react to this or that crisis, Obama looks at the big picture and seeks big solutions.

Any president can take a hard line on Iran. It takes a president of exceptional intellect and vision to see beyond the discord and view Iran as the solution, not the problem, or so Obama tells himself.

Second, the grand bargain approach is consistent with Obama’s laziness. Attempting to thwart Iran’s drive for empire would be hard work. It’s so much easier to pretend that Iranian ascendancy is a good thing, or at least a manageable one.

Finally, Obama suffers from the familiar leftist tendency to respect and defer to (and secretly admire) successful anti-American strongmen. A good leftist doesn’t want to be caught “on the wrong side of history.” If the future of the Middle East seems to belong to Iran, that’s good enough for Obama.

Fortunately, “strongmen” tend to come and go. Our goal should always be to attempt, insofar as prudence allows, to facilitate the exit of strongmen whose rule is bad for the United States.

The Iranian mullahs have spent the past 35 years proving that they fit this description. Regime change should have been Obama’s goal.

Instead, just as sanctions were beginning seriously to jeopardize the regime’s hold on power, Obama threw it a lifeline.

If Iranian ascendancy ushers in a new era of stability and relative peace in the Middle East, Obama’s approach will be vindicated and his self-image as intellectual powerhouse and visionary will stand confirmed.

In the more likely event that the rise of an Islamist, anti-American regime turns out badly for the interests of the U.S. (not to mention its close ally Israel), Obama will have turned out to be the intellectually arrogant, lazy leftist dabbler many of us always thought he is.

Will Bill Clinton’s Past Doom Hillary’s Future?

Gawker has obtained flight logbooks for disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s airplane, the “Lolita Express.” They disclose what appears to be a close relationship between Epstein and Bill Clinton:

Bill Clinton took repeated trips on the “Lolita Express”—the private passenger jet owned by billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein—with an actress in softcore porn movies whose name appears in Epstein’s address book under an entry for “massages,” according to flight logbooks obtained by Gawker and published today for the first time. The logs also show that Clinton shared more than a dozen flights with a woman who federal prosecutors believe procured underage girls to sexually service Epstein and his friends and acted as a “potential co-conspirator” in his crimes. …

Clinton shared Epstein’s plane with Kellen and Maxwell on at least 11 flights in 2002 and 2003—before any of the allegations against them became public—according to the pilots’ logbooks, which have surfaced in civil litigation surrounding Epstein’s crimes. In January 2002, for instance, Clinton, his aide Doug Band, and Clinton’s Secret Service detail are listed on a flight from Japan to Hong Kong with Epstein, Maxwell, Kellen, and two women described only as “Janice” and “Jessica.” One month later, records show, Clinton hopped a ride from Miami to Westchester on a flight that also included Epstein, Maxwell, Kellen, and a woman described only as “one female.”

In 2002, as New York has reported, Clinton recruited Epstein to make his plane available for a week-long anti-poverty and anti-AIDS tour of Africa with Kevin Spacey, Chris Tucker, billionaire creep Ron Burkle, Clinton confidant Gayle Smith (who now serves on Barack Obama’s National Security Council), and others. The logs from that trip show that Maxwell, Kellen, and a woman named Chauntae Davis joined the entourage for five days.

Chauntae Davis has this remarkable connection, which presumably is either a coincidence or an inside joke:

That last name—Chauntae Davies—shows up elsewhere in papers unearthed by the various investigations into Epstein’s sex ring: his little black book. Davies is one of 27 women listed in the book under an entry for “Massage- California,” one of six lists of massage girls Epstein kept in various locales, with a total of 160 names around the globe, many of them underage victims.

Today, Davies is an actress with credits including HBO’s Enlightened. In 2002, she was 23. According to her IMDB profile, in addition to her apparent massage work for Epstein, she landed a role that year as a “lingerie model” in Exposed, a movie produced by a softcore porn company called MRG Entertainment. … Exposed, appropriately enough, was directed by a pseudonymous auteur who went by the name of Clinton J. Williams.)

Will the Clintons be able to dodge questions about Bill Clinton’s relationship with Epstein? Time will tell, but what has come out so far seems irresistible, not just to tabloids but to the average voter. Bill will plead innocent, and the Clinton camp can take comfort from the fact that the most public of Epstein’s 30 or so underage girlfriends has said that she met Clinton several times, but never slept with him. But that leaves a lot of shoes that potentially could drop, not to mention a close and extraordinarily sleazy–to put the most favorable construction on it–association. Nor will many voters be willing to presume innocence in Clinton’s case.

An association with Epstein would be damaging to any candidate, but especially so for Hillary Clinton, who has always been overshadowed by her husband. The idea of restoring America to the relatively-golden era of the 1990s, however remote that prospect may be, is a big part of Hillary’s appeal. Independent of Bill, Hillary’s accomplishments are marginal. Her own campaign autobiography barely mentions her undistinguished tenure in the Senate. (She ran for a safe seat while she was First Lady, which it is hard to imagine anyone but a Clinton doing.) As for her time as Secretary of State, no one remembers anything about it except for the failed Russian “reset” and Benghazi.

That leaves her time as First Lady, which is her real claim to fame. But until now, no one has ever thought that being First Lady was a qualification for the presidency. You’ll notice that the Republicans aren’t touting Laura Bush as a candidate. The bottom line is that if Bill is tarnished, Hillary is tarnished too. Given his history, it may not take a lot more news about the Epstein connection to make voters queasy about putting Bill Clinton back in the White House.