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Posts For: June 10, 2013

Obama’s Sycophants in the Press (Continued)

Question: When is a politician’s flip-flops treated as if they are the result of a philosophical evolution by a modern-day Socrates? Answer: When the elite media is covering Barack Obama.

As evidence for this assertion, I would cite this Washington Post story by Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin. In a piece about Obama’s shift on counter-terrorism policies, we’re told, in a story with the headline “A philosophical shift in policy on surveillance,” this: “The former constitutional law professor — who rose to prominence in part by attacking what he called the government’s post-Sept. 11 encroachment on civil liberties — has undergone a philosophical evolution, arriving at what he now considers the right balance between national security prerogatives and personal privacy.”

In case you didn’t notice, dear reader, Mr. Obama didn’t simply experience an evolution; it was a philosophical evolution. It all sounds so downright thoughtful, well considered, and intellectual. We’re also told in the headline on the jump page of the story that “Obama strives for a pragmatic approach.”

Of course he does.

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Question: When is a politician’s flip-flops treated as if they are the result of a philosophical evolution by a modern-day Socrates? Answer: When the elite media is covering Barack Obama.

As evidence for this assertion, I would cite this Washington Post story by Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin. In a piece about Obama’s shift on counter-terrorism policies, we’re told, in a story with the headline “A philosophical shift in policy on surveillance,” this: “The former constitutional law professor — who rose to prominence in part by attacking what he called the government’s post-Sept. 11 encroachment on civil liberties — has undergone a philosophical evolution, arriving at what he now considers the right balance between national security prerogatives and personal privacy.”

In case you didn’t notice, dear reader, Mr. Obama didn’t simply experience an evolution; it was a philosophical evolution. It all sounds so downright thoughtful, well considered, and intellectual. We’re also told in the headline on the jump page of the story that “Obama strives for a pragmatic approach.”

Of course he does.

Something similar occurred with Obama’s position on same sex-marriage (SSM). In the 1990s, as a state legislator, he supported it. Then, when running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he opposed it, including on grounds that it violated his Christian beliefs. Obama also said he opposed same sex-marriage in the 2008 presidential election. Once he became president, however, he indicated he was rethinking his position–and by 2012, Obama endorsed same-sex marriages, arguing that his Christian faith helped dictate his decision. And how did the press report Obama’s shift? Here’s a headline from ABC News: “Obama’s Evolution On Gay Marriage.”

If mere mortal politicians–or at least mere conservative politicians–did what Obama does, they would be accused of being unprincipled and crafting their positions on important public matters based on which way the political winds were blowing (which was certainly the case for Obama on SSM). But the elite media, still enchanted with Mr. Obama, are determined to portray him as our modern-day Greek philosopher–a deeply pragmatic, empirical, and non-ideological truth seeker who has the ability to “grow” in office and rethink his positions.

We’re supposed to come away from stories like the Post’s grateful for having as our chief executive a man of such intellectual detachment and off-the-charts intelligence. For my part, I came away from the story once again reminded of how, when it comes to Barack Obama, many journalists are simply courtiers, and will be until the day he leaves office.

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Abbas’s Creative Intransigence

Last month, I dismissed John Kerry’s shawarma diplomacy as “purposeless,” not least because the Palestinians have shown no indication they are ready to sit down to high-level peace talks, and thus the secretary of state’s presence is a card too high to have played at this juncture. Kerry wanted to inject some immediacy into the peace process by kickstarting negotiations, but took a gamble by opening himself up to failure so early in his tenure.

The reason for Kerry’s trip seemed to be to deliver a message in person to the Palestinians: President Obama erred in demanding a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations, and he is not only lifting that demand but would like to impress upon Mahmoud Abbas the necessity of Abbas lifting that demand as well. The Palestinian reaction to Kerry’s request shows just how creative Abbas can be in avoiding peace negotiations. One of Abbas’s negotiators leaked to the Times of Israel an unofficial response, which managed to both comply with Kerry’s request and avoid negotiations:

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Last month, I dismissed John Kerry’s shawarma diplomacy as “purposeless,” not least because the Palestinians have shown no indication they are ready to sit down to high-level peace talks, and thus the secretary of state’s presence is a card too high to have played at this juncture. Kerry wanted to inject some immediacy into the peace process by kickstarting negotiations, but took a gamble by opening himself up to failure so early in his tenure.

The reason for Kerry’s trip seemed to be to deliver a message in person to the Palestinians: President Obama erred in demanding a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations, and he is not only lifting that demand but would like to impress upon Mahmoud Abbas the necessity of Abbas lifting that demand as well. The Palestinian reaction to Kerry’s request shows just how creative Abbas can be in avoiding peace negotiations. One of Abbas’s negotiators leaked to the Times of Israel an unofficial response, which managed to both comply with Kerry’s request and avoid negotiations:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year offered to free 50 Palestinian security prisoners who have been held since before the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, in a bid to get Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the peace table, The Times of Israel has learned.

However, Abbas rejected the offer.

Today, a senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel, the Palestinians might agree to renew talks with Israel if Netanyahu releases all 107 of the pre-Oslo veterans still in jail, most of whom have blood on their hands.

The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the matter.

The Palestinian official’s comments came as US Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to head back to the region for his fifth visit in four months, as he bids to cajole Netanyahu and Abbas to return to the negotiating table.

We have written time and again here about the Palestinian president’s intransigence. But now Kerry is experiencing it for the first time as secretary of state, and it’s doubtful it will be the last. Ever since Obama pushed the two sides away from the negotiating table in his first term, Abbas has responded to subsequent invitations from Benjamin Netanyahu with a simple strategy: ask for a concession to begin talks, and when Netanyahu agrees to it add another condition. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Often, these stalling tactics include demanding the release of murderers and/or terrorists, which has the added advantage, as Abbas sees it, of weakening Netanyahu among his coalition partners. Abbas strews the landscape with diplomatic land mines. So Kerry’s personal trip to the Middle East was met on the Palestinian side with feigned compliance: Perhaps they’ll drop the demand for a settlement freeze after all. But in its place, Abbas will double the prisoner demand as a possible precondition.

Why do I write possible precondition? The Times of Israel explains:

The Palestinian official, who asked not to be named, is one of Abbas’s close associates. He said that the release of all the pre-Oslo “veterans” is a “strategic” requirement for the PA. Choosing his words carefully, he said their release could prove sufficient to bring the PA back to the peace table, but he refused to say so explicitly, and could not rule out additional Palestinian conditions. In the past, Abbas has indicated that he would not return to the talks while Israel continued building new settlement homes, and figures released on Sunday showed a sharp rise in building starts at settlements in the first three months of this year.

It would be more accurate, I suppose, to call it not a “possible precondition” but a “precondition to possible talks.” Abbas is demanding the prisoner release as a precondition to permitting Kerry and Netanyahu to beg some more for talks–at which point Abbas will, as he always does, level a new precondition.

The demand was made in the context of Kerry’s return trip to the Middle East, so it should be interpreted as a starting point for negotiations. It is Abbas’s way of telling Kerry that peace negotiations–which Abbas does not want, because he does not want peace–will have to come at a price. This is going to present something of a challenge for Kerry, because Abbas is making a very important point here. Making concessions only to begin talks tells Abbas that he can rig the process to get what he wants without having to negotiate in good faith.

Abbas is currently playing games with Kerry and Netanyahu, but the latter doesn’t have to get on a plane and take days out of his busy schedule to fly halfway around the world only to be rejected by Abbas. Kerry does. If he can get Abbas to negotiate face to face without preconditions, he will at least accomplish something on the trip (although even that is lowering the bar). But if he doesn’t think he can get that, he will only be permitting Abbas to waste everyone’s valuable time.

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The Decline of Julian Assange

Spare a thought for Julian Assange. Having been holed up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for nearly a year, the lonely WikiLeaks founder appears worried that Edward Snowden, the former NSA consultant who was described by the Guardian as the “individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history,” is going to bounce him from his current perch as king of the whistleblowers.

Interviewed by the ABC broadcaster from his native Australia, Assange was keen to insert himself into the NSA story, claiming that his organization had engaged in “indirect communication” with individuals connected to Snowden. Quite what this means isn’t clear, since Assange has never applied the exacting transparency standards he demands from governments and intelligence agencies to the activities of WikiLeaks. But it’s not unreasonable to speculate that one of these individuals might be Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer who broke the Snowden story. After all, it was Greenwald who breathlessly described Assange as “one of the very few individuals over the past decade to risk his welfare, liberty and even life to meaningfully challenge the secrecy regime on which the American national security state (and those of its obedient allies) depends.”    

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Spare a thought for Julian Assange. Having been holed up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for nearly a year, the lonely WikiLeaks founder appears worried that Edward Snowden, the former NSA consultant who was described by the Guardian as the “individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history,” is going to bounce him from his current perch as king of the whistleblowers.

Interviewed by the ABC broadcaster from his native Australia, Assange was keen to insert himself into the NSA story, claiming that his organization had engaged in “indirect communication” with individuals connected to Snowden. Quite what this means isn’t clear, since Assange has never applied the exacting transparency standards he demands from governments and intelligence agencies to the activities of WikiLeaks. But it’s not unreasonable to speculate that one of these individuals might be Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer who broke the Snowden story. After all, it was Greenwald who breathlessly described Assange as “one of the very few individuals over the past decade to risk his welfare, liberty and even life to meaningfully challenge the secrecy regime on which the American national security state (and those of its obedient allies) depends.”    

Yesterday, Assange repaid Greenwald’s encomium by inadvertently strengthening the hand of those observers who insist that the import of Snowden’s claims has been vastly exaggerated. As he told ABC, “What [Mr Snowden] has revealed is what I have been speaking about for years, that their National Security Agency and its allies have been involved in a mass interception program of Google, Facebook, the various telecommunications data.” Speaking to CBS about the trial of Bradley Manning, the U.S. army private who supplied WikiLeaks with thousands of classified intelligence documents and diplomatic cables, Assange again conjured up the specter of an all-powerful surveillance state: “People have a right to understand what the government is doing in their name…There’s no way that the American or international public was aware, in detail, of these mass spying programs.”

Legitimate concerns about privacy and civil liberties are one thing; assertions that data collection programs like PRISM amount to “mass spying” are something else entirely. Over the last couple of days, a number of commentators like Ed Bott and Marc Ambinder have scrutinized the hyperbolic claims of the Guardian and the Washington Post and found them seriously wanting. Assange pushes them regardless because his agenda has always been driven by the sole desire to present the U.S. as the most roguish of rogue states.

Assange’s devotion has not gone unappreciated by those countries that really do spy on their citizens without accountability, and who do restrict Internet access and muzzle press freedoms. Russia’s official international broadcaster, RT, rewarded Assange with his own television show. Press TV, the English-language mouthpiece of the Iranian regime, bemoaned the “deafening global silence” over the plight of a man who “stood for the oppressed, the usurped.” And Ecuador, under the leadership of the leftist autocrat Rafael Correa, dived in to save Assange from the prospect of deportation from the UK to Sweden, where he faces criminal charges of a sexual nature, by offering him asylum in his country’s London embassy.

However, as Edward Snowden’s star rises, Assange’s appears to be falling. Over the weekend, Britain’s Independent newspaper revealed that Ana Alban, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the UK, was being recalled to Quito because of growing anguish that Assange’s status remains unresolved:

Ecuador is understood to be desperate to negotiate a way for Mr Assange to quit its embassy amicably and is growing frustrated with the lack of progress. Quito sources said they believe Britain is happy to leave Mr Assange marooned.

At a meeting last Tuesday between Ms Alban and Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Latin America, Ms Alban is said to have asked: “What are we going to do about the stone in the shoe?”

Mr Swire’s response, according to a source who was in the room, was: “Not my stone, not my shoe.”

Correa determined that sheltering Assange would give his government some defense from accusations over its woeful record on free speech. Those concerns remain in the frame–in the last few weeks, Freedom House has called out Correa over is use of lawsuits against government critics, while Ecuadorean journalists have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on documented examples of state intimidation–but Assange has clearly outlived his usefulness. Edward Snowden (who, as Max Boot pointed out yesterday, has also taken refuge in an authoritarian state which “has far more intrusive electronic surveillance than anything the NSA could possibly dream up”) might want to take note.

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Obama’s Fans Try to Change the Subject

As the Obama administration’s scandals continue piling up, the president’s defenders are trying, and failing, to change the subject. With regard to the revelations that the IRS targeted President Obama’s critics in the nonprofit sector after Obama publicly harangued those nonprofits and his Democratic allies in Congress encouraged their investigation, Obama’s defenders warned conservatives that they were in danger of “overreaching.”

Having failed at that, the president’s defenders seem to be trying a new tack: use the news about President Obama’s expansion of the surveillance state, involving NSA cyber-snooping and the Justice Department’s unprecedented seizure of the phone records of journalists and their family members, to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy. Didn’t Republicans defend the Bush administration’s antiterror tactics, after all? But here, too, the left is running into some difficulty finding the hypocrites. Our own Max Boot has been clear on his support for the antiterror apparatus under both presidents. The Wall Street Journal has been flooding its op-ed page with editorials–sometimes more than one a day–supporting President Obama on the issue.

Most of the criticism coming from the right, in fact, is either from those who support the surveillance program but knock President Obama for his own hypocrisy–his defense of the NSA is precisely the “false choice” between our values and our security he disingenuously demagogued to gain his current office–or those who never support such surveillance, regardless of the party in power. Libertarian-leaning Justin Amash, a young Republican congressman from Michigan, has been one of the most active congressional critics of the surveillance program. On Twitter last week, he was accused of hypocrisy by a person wondering why Amash wasn’t outraged by NSA activities under Bush. Amash replied that he absolutely was outraged; he was also in college.

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As the Obama administration’s scandals continue piling up, the president’s defenders are trying, and failing, to change the subject. With regard to the revelations that the IRS targeted President Obama’s critics in the nonprofit sector after Obama publicly harangued those nonprofits and his Democratic allies in Congress encouraged their investigation, Obama’s defenders warned conservatives that they were in danger of “overreaching.”

Having failed at that, the president’s defenders seem to be trying a new tack: use the news about President Obama’s expansion of the surveillance state, involving NSA cyber-snooping and the Justice Department’s unprecedented seizure of the phone records of journalists and their family members, to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy. Didn’t Republicans defend the Bush administration’s antiterror tactics, after all? But here, too, the left is running into some difficulty finding the hypocrites. Our own Max Boot has been clear on his support for the antiterror apparatus under both presidents. The Wall Street Journal has been flooding its op-ed page with editorials–sometimes more than one a day–supporting President Obama on the issue.

Most of the criticism coming from the right, in fact, is either from those who support the surveillance program but knock President Obama for his own hypocrisy–his defense of the NSA is precisely the “false choice” between our values and our security he disingenuously demagogued to gain his current office–or those who never support such surveillance, regardless of the party in power. Libertarian-leaning Justin Amash, a young Republican congressman from Michigan, has been one of the most active congressional critics of the surveillance program. On Twitter last week, he was accused of hypocrisy by a person wondering why Amash wasn’t outraged by NSA activities under Bush. Amash replied that he absolutely was outraged; he was also in college.

It turns out that the hypocrisy the left is looking for is coming from its own side, as would be expected. Two days after Amash tweeted his outrage, Neera Tanden, a former advisor to Obama now heading the liberal Center for American Progress, tweeted her own conflicted opinion about the snooping:

tandentweet

In another tweet, Tanden followed up on the thought by noting that while Obama uses these broad powers, he’s hoping to rein them in for future presidents, so people should stop giving him such a hard time. It’s actually somewhat uncomfortable to watch Obama’s defenders telegraph ahead of time exactly how they’ll reverse their supposed principles as soon as someone they haven’t worked for takes office.

And so the search for Republican hypocrisy to match the left’s continued. Today’s edition of the New York Times contains their latest attempt:

The press — often the target of allegations of liberal bias by conservative media — has found an unlikely ally in right-leaning radio and television hosts who have taken to defending the First Amendment with a fire-and-brimstone zeal. (To drive home his point that anything goes when it comes to free speech, Mr. Beck waved the Koran and a napkin said to be stained with Hitler’s blood.)

The First Amendment has always been a hot-button issue for talk radio, but conservative hosts in particular have focused on freedom of the press after revelations last month that the Justice Department had seized the phone and e-mail records of a Fox News reporter, the Washington correspondent James Rosen, who had included details about a secret United States report on North Korea in a 2009 article published on FoxNews.com. …

Critics and supporters have noticed the emergence of Fox News, known for its battle cries of liberal bias in other news outlets, as one of the most vocal defenders of those news outlets’ rights.

Swing and a miss. The rest of the Times article tries to make the argument that conservatives are defending the media from Obama’s snooping only because they were also targeted and because they care less about leaks that harm national security than they do about criticizing the Obama administration. Both sides to this accusation are, of course, false.

The Times makes two rather obvious mistakes here in its effort to change the conversation and put conservatives on the spot. The first is that they don’t understand the difference between the roles played by a government official who breaks the law by leaking certain information and the journalist who does nothing wrong by receiving the information. Prosecuting the leaker and the journalist are two very different actions.

The second error is that the Times confuses attacks on the media with attacks on media freedom. Conservatives don’t argue that liberal newspapers don’t have a constitutional right to publish Democratic talking points and try to protect the president rather than cover the news evenhandedly. But that doesn’t mean conservatives don’t wish the media would do their jobs more often and make more of an effort to get the story right–or at least not work so hard to get the story wrong. It’s easy to understand why liberals want to change the subject, but they’re still grasping at straws.

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Erdoğan Doubles Down; To Destroy Botanical Garden

Protests continue across Turkey, with some violence reported overnight, and police brutality continuing. The Turkish police have begun to arrest those using Twitter to announce protests. And the government has been holding counter-rallies, sometimes using Photoshop to fill in the crowds.

Rather than cool tensions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems determined to throw fuel on the fire. The spark for the unrest was, of course, the prime minister’s determination to destroy a small urban park in order to build a shopping mall or, perhaps, a mosque. What started out as an environmental protest morphed into something far larger, largely in response to the prime minister’s arrogance and police crackdown.

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Protests continue across Turkey, with some violence reported overnight, and police brutality continuing. The Turkish police have begun to arrest those using Twitter to announce protests. And the government has been holding counter-rallies, sometimes using Photoshop to fill in the crowds.

Rather than cool tensions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems determined to throw fuel on the fire. The spark for the unrest was, of course, the prime minister’s determination to destroy a small urban park in order to build a shopping mall or, perhaps, a mosque. What started out as an environmental protest morphed into something far larger, largely in response to the prime minister’s arrogance and police crackdown.

It’s against this backdrop that the announcement that Erdoğan will confiscate an eight-decade-old botanical garden and transfer it to the Istanbul mufti’s office seems like he is extending his middle finger to liberals, secularists, and the general public. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

On May 29, [Rector Yunus] Söylet wrote on Twitter that the Religious Affairs Directorate had been demanding the garden from the university for the past eight years following a question from a student. The university did not respond to the Hürriyet Daily News’ request for information on the issue. After Söylet’s remarks, a number of students, academics and activists gathered at a panel in Istanbul to discuss the significance of the garden for science and to voice their demands that the garden be maintained. Several academics are still waiting for a response from the rector’s office for an appointment in which they expect to express the importance of the garden to science. Istanbul University’s Alfred Heilbronn Botanic Garden was established near Süleymaniye Mosque in 1933, by Alfred Heilbronn and Leo Brauner, two Jewish professors who escaped Nazi Germany for Turkey. Erdal Üzen, an academic who has worked at the garden for many years, says the uprooting of such plants would cause damage to them. The botanical garden in Süleymaniye includes around 3,000 different plant species and 1,000 different tree species that function as a record of all the species found in Anatolia. The Turkey’s Biologists Association’s Istanbul bureau head, İlbay Kahraman, warned that the uprooting would cause great damage to the school and garden.

Once again, the Turkish prime minister demonstrates the confusion many Islamists and Middle East potentates hold regarding the difference between democracy and majoritarianism. As the spiteful Erdoğan doubles down, let us hope that the White House and State Department will dispense with the notion that Erdoğan’s Turkey is any longer a model once and for all.

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Now the Environmental Protection Agency

Fox News has reported that nearly three-dozen Republican congressmen have accused the EPA of “apparent bias” against conservative groups seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act. Government agencies charge fees for producing the requested documents and these fees can be very substantial, sometimes upwards of $100,000. But the fees can be waived if the agency thinks the information will serve a public purpose. According to Fox:

The allegations were first made by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank. It claimed the EPA was not being fair as it weighed whether to charge fees to groups seeking information via Freedom of Information Act requests.

Its research showed liberal groups have their fees for documents waived about 90 percent of the time, while conservative groups are denied fee waivers about 90 percent of the time.

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Fox News has reported that nearly three-dozen Republican congressmen have accused the EPA of “apparent bias” against conservative groups seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act. Government agencies charge fees for producing the requested documents and these fees can be very substantial, sometimes upwards of $100,000. But the fees can be waived if the agency thinks the information will serve a public purpose. According to Fox:

The allegations were first made by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank. It claimed the EPA was not being fair as it weighed whether to charge fees to groups seeking information via Freedom of Information Act requests.

Its research showed liberal groups have their fees for documents waived about 90 percent of the time, while conservative groups are denied fee waivers about 90 percent of the time.

This is not surprising. While the IRS is staffed by bureaucrats and bureaucrats tend, naturally, to favor the party of big government, the EPA is staffed with ideologues out of the environmental movement. That is a movement that, in the guise of protecting the environment, is virulently anti-commerce and anti-free market. I would guess that at least 90 percent of those who call themselves “environmental activists” voted for Obama.

This is a classic example of “regulatory capture,” where a government regulating agency ends up staffed by people who come out of the thing being regulated. The very first federal regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission, created in 1887 to regulate the railroad industry, was soon full of railroad men who, after all, had the expertise needed. The ICC quickly evolved into a cartel mechanism that eliminated competition in the industry and guaranteed profits. The result was a long, slow decline of the railroad industry until the 1970s, when the ICC’s rate-setting powers were eliminated.

If there is systemic bias against conservative organizations in both the IRS and the EPA it seems unlikely that it stops there. What other parts of the Obama administration are using the powers of government for illegitimate political purposes?

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